“At his first game in the majors fades ever farther into the past, and tawdry hucksters of various ideological persuasions try to turn race baiting into political capital, America desperately needs the example of Jackie Robinson, to whom the country owes an enormous round of applause and a prayer for the repose of a noble soul.” (page 181, Not Forgotten)
Is today the best of times or the worst of times? Are you as an American feeling leaderless, purposeless, guilty for trying to do the right thing, at times broken, and constantly under attack inside your own country?
Over the last 30 years, the promises of “progress” have broken many spirits. Follow the technology, science, therapy, and educated leadership to diversify and globalize, “love is love”; friends, it’s not working.
We have crumbling cities, undefended borders, a strained welfare state, and broken families. And if the national situation is not yet challenging enough, Hamas’ evil attack of Israel, I would hope, has awakened all to extremely tough and desperate times.
Today, we need the best America has to offer to respond to our national and local challenges.
Well, if you’re wondering what America is all about when the world needs us one more time, as much as ever, we have that one very simple book for you: George Weigel’s Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (2020).
Mr. Weigel’s answer: America is all about the good, God-fearing people of our great country.
In Not Forgotten, George Weigel, a Contributor introduced to the Praxis Circle community this past June, offers a collection of 60 mini-biographies, reminisces, or elegies, of people, most of whom he has known personally, from many fields: politics, religion, the arts and sciences, journalism, the academy, entertainment, and sports.
If you like biography, you will love this feast of mostly 20th century American lives all between two and four pages each. As George suggests in his subtitle (giving us a hint of his understated humor), his are “mostly admirable” characters.
It’s impossible to convey the vast array of persons Mr. Weigel has known over the course of his career as a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, John Paul II’s biographer, and one of the world’s most influential Catholics.
(In full disclosure, this is the second time Mr. Weigel has won the coveted Praxis Circle Book of the Month Award, the last time being To Sanctify the World exactly a year ago. In tense times, I guess I find myself heading back to basics.)
In each area covered in Not Forgotten, Mr. Wiegel displays an even-handedness in politics, religion, sex, and identity that’s reminiscent of a prior age when Americans did a better job coming together via a common culture, especially when times were most difficult.
Early on in the book, Mr. Weigel presents his oldest character from the 16th century, astronomer Tycho Brahe, for his love of and reverence for God’s creation. He also includes early on the great sociologist, Peter Berger, deceased in 2017, who admitted that Tycho might have been right all along—the secularization thesis was stupid; it just came via Peter’s approval and left by the end of his most distinguished career (as he admitted openly and without shame).
Perhaps the best way to convey Not Forgotten’s breadth is to mention just a few of the 60 people, all deceased at the time of publication, whom George honors with his pen: Cokie Roberts, Chuck Colson, Albert Einstein, Cass Elliott, Vaclav Havel, Henry Hyde, Leszek Kowlakowski, Charles Krauthammer, Patrick Moynihan, Flannery O’Connor, Tom Wolfe, and, among my favorites, George’s mother and father (Betsy and George Weigel).
All of these figures lived mostly during a time when it was cool to have fun but not cool to showboat; not cool to say “look at me;” not cool to hotdog at home plate or in the end zone. In all honesty, I’m not sure whether this is “white virtue” or just plain virtue. That’s all in fun and quite debatable. But genuine humility and self-sacrifice are current virtues; not “old school” in the slightest.
The Greatest Generation of all identities was taught to act like they’d been there before, especially when experiencing outrageous and quite often lucky, undeserved success. The wise knew what goes around, comes around—and every single time in the fullness of God’s creation.
George’s Love of Sports
Of course, any fan of George Weigel knows about his love of sports, but particularly two of the three uniquely American sports, baseball and football. (Basketball being the third.) That love shows through in his reminiscence of Jackie Robinson quoted above. Indeed, George shared a love of sports with his two famous mentors, John Paul II and Michael Novak (both subjects in Not Forgotten, the latter also a Praxis Circle Contributor).
But the closer I got to George’s life in reading his books, which include a necessary amount of biographical information, the more I realized we share not just a love of sports in general, but a love of two professional teams in particular: the Baltimore Orioles baseball and Baltimore Colt football teams from maybe the Golden Era of Baltimore sports (~1957 to 1983).
In Not Forgotten, George includes testimonials of five sports figures: Jackie Robinson (the Brooklyn Dodgers), Gino Marchetti (the Baltimore Colts), Jim Mutscheller (the Baltimore Colts), Frank Robinson (the Baltimore Orioles), and Earl Weaver (the Baltimore Orioles). Each Baltimore sports figure was a great from that Golden Era.
In our interview with George, I asked him what sports has taught him. His answer was so illuminating we made it into the “Tribute to George Weigel’s Love of Sports” presented here at the very top (5:26). George was born in 1951 and I was born in 1955. So, we were both came-off-age from the Chesapeake Bay area as rabid Orioles and Colts fans.
Gino Marchetti was a Colts Hall of Fame defensive end into the 1960s, who did much to smooth integrating race relations and satisfy American love of hamburgers (Gino’s); Jim Mutscheller played both ways for a 1949 national championship Notre Dame team and was a key Colts pass receiver for their original NFL championship team; Frank Robinson, like Jackie, helped to integrate baseball as one of the finest hitters and fielders in all of baseball history; and Earl Weaver was the mastermind of the Orioles’ Golden era.
Mutscheller, F. Robinson, and Weaver all make cameo appearances in the Weigel Tribute video and this post, though you have to explore and know what you’re looking for!
One final note before closing. On September 26 last month, America lost one of its finest human beings and the generally regarded best fielding third baseman in history, Brooks Robinson, at age 86. I know that George would have included a biography of Mr. Robinson in Not Forgotten (2020) had he died before the book was published.
To honor Mr. Robinson, we present Major League Baseball’s summary of his life below, and short highlights of his amazing fielding ability here.
While middle-era Boomers like me were still too young for the Vietnam War by the mid-to-late 1960s, when the Orioles and Colts were in their prime, we were brought up by Greatest Generation men and women like Gino Marchetti, who fought in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, and Jim Mutscheller, who served in the Korea War. America’s importance to freedom worldwide was obvious and not controversial.
Our Past and Future are One
In sum, whatever the difficult situation we face today as Americans both at home and abroad, all of those in Not Forgotten would be encouraging us to understand that we are quite okay now, that our anxieties are much between our ears, that the future is all humbly with us (with God’s help), and that we should have full confidence in our own abilities as a “national team” under God.
Yes, as George says, life and sports are much about suffering . . . and excellence . . . in no particular order. To that the Greatest Generation would add: “Isn’t it magnificent? The glory days still are now.”
Our children will be blessed with similar nostalgia, if we act well today.
Just this year the Orioles rose again as champions of the always tough American League East Division, producing the second best record in the Major Leagues by winning 101 games (after losing 110 just two years ago). With high hopes they entered the playoffs, only to get swept as of last Tuesday night 3 games to 0 by the Wild Card Texas Rangers. Oh well, there’s always next year for the Birds, and “ain’t the beer cold, baby!”
Thank you, George, for a terrific and inspirational book, coming out of a faithful life.
And one last suggestion: Not Forgotten would make a special Christmas gift for anyone needing future inspiration via everyday, heroic saints of the past.
PS – For the two Baltimore Colt fight songs and some dramatic photos of the famous Colt teams, see this video (4:02). Granted, it does go overboard highlighting “Mr. Quarterback,” #19, AKA “God,” whenever he (John Unitas, <terrific video to the left) stepped into the huddle, according to perhaps the greatest tight end of all time, Hall of Famer, John Mackey. You can be as good as Mackey, maybe, but you just don’t get better. As the commentator suggests in the link at his name, Mackey defined the position. To understand, you have to watch him play: See the link and enjoy (3:57).