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Voices -- Jerry Cronin

January 13, 2009 |  8:00 am
Keith Thursby writes: Ned Cronin was a columnist at The Times until his death in 1958 and his work has been featured often in the Daily Mirror. His son, Jerry, recently discovered the blog and we started an e-mail conversation. I asked him if he’d be willing to share some memories of growing up in Southern California and his dad. Here is a recent e-mail:

1958_0820_cronin01 I have been thinking about writing a book about growing up in L.A. at that period of time in the days of the values of Ozzie and Harriet. Coincidentally, my mother's name was Harriet and she was also a housewife like the role Harriet Nelson portrayed on their television show.

In those days, the male was the breadwinner and the female was the domestic engineer in charge of running the household. This created a major problem when my dad died when he was 48 years old. My mother had never had to work and I was their only child going to Loyola.

My father's death created a financial strain on my mother so she sold our house near Olympic and La Cienega and we moved downtown to a small studio apartment where I slept on a sofa and she slept on a cot next to the stove. She went to Sawyer's Business School to become a secretary, which took a year. She  finished in June at the end of my school year and we moved back to the hometown of my father and mother in Pendleton, Ore.

My father was a workaholic. He wrote a humorous daily column about sports figures, but he also wrote columns seven days a week under the byline of Dick Kidson called the Farmers Market Today promoting the different businesses at the classic landmark.

When I was 14, I worked for Magee's cutting up fresh fruit for their salads in a warehouse across the street on Fairfax near Canter's Delicatessen. Then, during the other vacations from school, I was promoted to washing pots and pans in the rear of their stall at their main location. I was the only non-Hispanic and learned supplementary vocabulary words that I could not use in my Spanish I class. The quality of food has not changed in 50 years.

I mention the Farmers Market because my father used to take me with him on occasion on his daily rounds. He would go the Farmers Market and interview a vendor. We would get gasoline at the Gilmore's first Self Serve gas station in the country next door.

He would sometimes go visit his friend, Danny Goodman, at Gilmore Field, which was the home of the Hollywood Stars baseball team. Danny Goodman was a generous man who always sent crates of sodas over to our house. Those were the days of delicious sugary Nehi soda.

When the Dodgers moved to L.A. in 1958, the year my father died, Danny Goodman was in charge of concessions at Dodger Stadium. The rest is history considering how much the organization makes a year in concessions.

He had years of experience promoting events at Gilmore Field. The press box at Gilmore Field was incredible and I don't mean that in a good way. You had to walk across a catwalk above the fans in order to get to the tiny press box. However, it was always filled with hot dogs and drinks and Danny knew how to take care of the sports writers. The most excitement occurred when the Hollywood Stars played the crosstown rival, the Los Angeles Angels.

It was an insane atmosphere.  In one game, the Angels manager promised a cashmere suit to the first Angels player to start a fight with a member of the opposing team. If you were a witness to this mayhem, it was the best entertainment in the city. By the fifth inning the fans were drunk and huge fights would erupt right underneath the press box. People would hurl cups of beer into each other's faces. It doesn't get any better than that.

The Pan-Pacific was another venue that my father visited frequently. He always gave me tickets to take my girlfriends to the Ice Capades and Ice Follies. It was more fun to go see the Harlem Globetrotters and my father got me an autographed picture of their "Clown" Goose Tatum who had a 7-foot arm span from fingertip to fingertip. I also enjoyed the Sportsmen's Show where I had my first trout fishing experience out of a stocked tank. They would always have a daredevil climb up a narrow tall ladder and dive into a 10-foot tank.

1958_0820_cronin02Getting back to the routine of accompanying my father, we would then go down 6th Street toward downtown. His first stop was a visit to his doctor, Joe Zeiler, whom he gave boxing tickets and racetrack tickets in exchange for medical services.

He got into trouble once when he took the season pass tickets to Santa Anita from another employee's mailbox at the Daily News and gave them to his doctor. The employee raised a stink and called the police not knowing that it was my dad who took the tickets. His doctor was arrested when he showed at Santa Anita to enter the horse races.

Needless to say, it was embarrassing for everyone involved. My father had cirrhosis of the liver, an occupational hazard of Irish sports writers in those days. My almost died once and was saved when the UCLA football team donated 10 pints of blood to save him. Somehow, his doctor kept him alive despite many relapses.

My father would take me to the Daily News at Pico and Los Angeles streets. There was such a cast of characters at the Daily News. They were talented and very funny despite working in deplorable conditions. Those were the days when you couldn't simply e-mail or fax in your columns. As a result, they spent a lot of time interacting with each other with great camaraderie. The sports department consisted of a bunch of hard drinking rowdies. 

My father's primary goal in my upbringing was to have me become a professional football player. He facilitated this process by taking me to UCLA football practices where his friend, Red Sanders, gave me advice and my own blocking dummy to take home and set up in my backyard. I am an only child so there was not much resistance when I would hit it.

Their punter taught me how to punt a football. He set up an appointment with "Toeless" Ben Agajanian, the famous kicker from the New York Giants. It was embarrassing because my father expected me to kick 50-yard field goals and I was so nervous that I would top the football and it would not go airborne but bounce down the field. Ben's brother, J.C. Agajanian, was a famous race car owner with his famed No. 98 race cars.

The next arranged event took place on the football field of Los Angeles High School. My father has set up a date with Hall of Fame Quarterback, Bobby Lane, who led the Detroit Lions to their last championship for 50 years.  I nervously got out of my car and spied Bobby Lane running a lap around the track and a bag of footballs next to a bench.

1958_0821_croninHe told me to run a fast lap to warm up. I was a sprinter on the track team but not in shape to race a record breaking 440. I was breathing hard before we even started the workout. He then had me run patterns for 30 minutes until I thought I was going to drop dead from exhaustion. He was a party animal who kept himself in great shape. He even challenged the boxer, Art Aragon, to see who had more endurance by showing up early one morning when Aragon did his roadwork. He outlasted Aragon.

I had never seen such precise throwing accuracy in my life. Of course, he always gave me a substantial lead to make me run harder to make the catch. It was a great experience. I just wish that I had not been so nearsighted that I could barely see the ball.

To continue the theme of my apprenticeship to football, my father decided when I was 14 that I was not mean enough. It is difficult to take an easygoing person and turn them into "Mean Joe Green". Nevertheless, he decided that I needed to get toughened up by making an appointment with one of his wrestler friends, Sandor Szabo, who had a wrestling school near Westwood Boulevard and San Vicente.

As usual, my dad was playing golf on this particular Saturday so he made my mother take me to the gym. All the other guys had scars all over their faces and bodies and looked as if they were fugitives found in a rogue's gallery. Most of them were in their 20s with aspirations to become professional wrestlers which paid good money in those days.

I tried to retreat to the area in back and try to avoid having to go into the ring with one of hoodlums. Finally, I was spotted and forced to get into the ring. After 10 minutes of being thrown all over the ring and mat burns all over my face, I was allowed to get out of the ring. I had to go there 3 times and was starting to get a cauliflower ear, so my mother convinced my dad that it was inconvenient for her to drive me over there and wait for an hour while I got the crap beat out of me.

Anytime my dad invited anyone over to the house, I would go hide in my room. You would think that I would be anxious to meet a celebrity and enjoy the experience. The reason for my reticence was that he would introduce people to me, I would shake their hands, and then he would make me do push ups in front of them to show them how athletic I was. He would have them punch me in the stomach to show the strength of my stomach muscles.

1960_1021_croninThe worst experience would be when he would take me to the Wilshire Country Club to accompany him while he played golf.

The first time I went, I looked forward to the event because it was fun to ride around in the golf cart which I might be able to drive. The actual fun ceased after about the 4th hole. My father would then stop the cart and make me get out. He would then take off in the cart and make me run full speed to catch it to illustrate to his friends that I could run fast.

When he took me to a celebrity golf tournament where he was invited to play, he made Dean Martin feel my bicep.

I could go on but you get the idea. You now know the "Good, Bad, and the Ugly." Unfortunately, two years after he died, I received a football scholarship from Stanford and had an unusual experience that had an impact on why I did not realize my father's dream.

It was winter term of my freshman year and I was playing rugby to stay in shape as well as lifting weights. I was on my way to the weight room when I ran into my football coach with whom I had no contact since the season ended. He didn't even provide comfort to the players after one of my teammates shot and killed himself in the soccer field.

Nevertheless, I put a smile on my face and greeted him. When he finally got next to me, instead of shaking my hand, he grabbed my bicep and asked me if I was lifting weights and working on building up my strength. At that point, I felt as if I were a slab of beef on a hook in a Rocky movie. I had a great Spring Alumni Game to prove to myself that I could play linebacker aggressively and then told them that I would not be back the following year.

I played rugby at the University of Oregon for fun and was selected to be a participant in the University People to People Student Ambassador Program in Western Europe. This experience changed my life and I joined the Peace Corps and served two years in Colombia promoting Community Development. I have traveled throughout Europe, South America , Mexico and the U.S. I have been in charge of all the services at ARCO's Prudhoe Bay Operations Center in the Arctic and in charge of Technology for all 25 K-12 schools in Watts.

I broke the trend among Cronin men to not die in their 40s. That is not to say that I am in the pillar of good health as I had a heart attack 18 months ago and died twice after a bypass operation. I am going to be 67 on December 12th so I may not have achieved fame as an athlete but I have had an interesting life filled with unique challenges and rewards.

Jerry Cronin