The death of Rod Gilbert, one of the most popular players in New York Rangers history, at age 80 last week unleashed a torrent of tributes. He played most of the 1960s and ’70s for the Blueshirts, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. That alone, however, doesn’t explain why his passing saddened so many.

Gilbert was as much a part of the late 1960s New York sports fabric as Joe Namath and Tom Seaver. They were celebrities even to those who didn’t follow sports. Perhaps because hockey wasn’t as popular as baseball or football, Gilbert was more approachable to the average person.

As is the custom of many sports teams regarding their former star players, the Rangers hired Gilbert as a club ambassador. More times than not, the sole function of the job is to wine and dine high-net worth individuals to buy/maintain season tickets and Madison Square Garden suites. Gilbert did that, of course, but he also made it a point to get to know the patrons in the Garden’s nosebleed seats. In fact, I would bet most Rangers fans had an opportunity to meet him over the last 40 years. And he was always happy to represent the team at charitable events.

Gilbert grew up in Montreal and only spoke French when he arrived in New York in 1960. Hockey journalist and Bayside High School alum Ashley Scharge was also born in Montreal. A few years ago he asked Gilbert if he had any regrets about not playing for the Montreal Canadiens, who seemed to win the Stanley Cup every year. “Coming to New York was one of the best things to ever happen in my life,” he replied. “I wouldn’t trade that for 100 Stanley Cups!”

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso was a speaker at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum last Monday. The museum, as is the case with many cultural institutions, has been struggling financially. “I have been to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum five times. I hope as many people as possible visit it on this, the 20th anniversary of that tragic day,” Alonso told me.

Javier Baez’s agent is going to have to explain to him why it’s not a good idea for him to criticize Mets fans for booing a team that lost 13 games in the standings in a month. At Sunday’s postgame press conference after a rare August win (albeit it was against the decimated Washington Nationals), Baez said he and his teammates are now celebrating big hits by pointing their thumbs down as a way of indicating their displeasure with Mets fans.

To his immense credit, manager Luis Rojas, who has acknowledged hearing calls for his dismissal from fans at Citi Field, defended the patrons’ right to let off steam at what they properly perceive to be poor play.

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The Mets should make a bid for impending free agent third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, who was at Citi Field last week as a member of the Giants after being traded four weeks earlier from the Chicago Cubs.

Like a smart politician, Bryant was happy to chat with the New York media in front of the Giants’ dugout last Tuesday afternoon. Bryant grew up in Las Vegas and has now played in two of the majors’ best cities, Chicago and San Francisco. I pointed out how that was much better than, say, Detroit and Cincinnati. “I’ve been fortunate,” he replied. He broke into a hearty chuckle when I told him he should convey that to his agent.

Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler’s dugout briefings are always lively affairs. Two years ago, Kapler was fired by the Philadelphia Phillies as his team badly faded in September. He smiled when I told him my mom has always told me things always work out for the best. I asked him if the Giants’ success this year is more enjoyable because of his dismissal by the Phillies. “Absolutely!” he replied without hesitation.

Kapler credited the Giants’ surprising success to the fact his players have bought into the baseball philosophy of his and his coaches. I asked Kapler if buy-in is a lot easier when you have a winning team. “It has been this way since I met most of these players in spring training of 2020,” he said. I doubt Mets players have bought into the philosophies of Rojas and his staff in quite the same way.

According to last Sunday’s New York Post, roughly 50 percent of the professional tennis players taking part in the US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are not vaccinated against Covid-19. That is a disgrace. The United States Tennis Association should have informed all potential participants that if they chose not to be vaccinated they wouldn’t be allowed to compete at the US Open. Period. The USTA has properly decreed only fully vaccinated spectators will be allowed on the grounds.

The USTA’s cowardice in dealing with the players must be a key reason why they dramatically reduced the number of credentialed media this year. I can’t imagine any reporter wanting to be in Interview Room 1 at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the purpose of engaging in a Q&A with a potential Covid-19 spreader.

Life and style

The passing of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts last week shook up a lot of baby boomers who were reminded of their own mortality. I didn’t realize how great a drummer Watts was until I listened to Stones hits “Honky Tonk Women” and “Wild Horses” over the weekend.

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