JOE – JOSEPH D. McNAMARA – MY TENNIS PAL – Still Lives and Inspires in My Mind – by Billy Lee – July, 2020

I cannot not think of Joe these days, when the world is questioning, what does the death of George Floyd, a black man choked to death by a white policeman, mean to us, our society, and our humanity. Joe was a highly respected Police Chief in San Jose, California, 1976-1991, and subsequently a much-quoted Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “He brought Reform and Modernization to the San Jose Police Department when such changes weren’t popular, and taboo between police and residents, Latino in particular,” wrote SFGate. “An eloquent and engaging critic of Drug War, Reactionary and Aggressive Policing, and Militarization of Law Enforcement,” Washington Post described him. In October 2011, he wrote for the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: “You Say You Want a Revolution”. He was philosophical as well as visionary.

I met Joe around 2008, when I joined a neighborhood group of 70s-and-over retired fellows who still thought they had something to prove on the tennis courts. Joe was a gung-ho baseball-softball fella, but at this late age tennis became his second love. Having directed a large police department of 1000 officers earlier, he was used to directing, but with this group of tennis pals he was just faster in making suggestions. He kind of liked to lead, and the group generally cooperated, as he was always friendly, reasonable, and insightful.

I seemed to be his favorite doubles partner, as we often started the game with him saying, “I play with Billy.” Actually, he had it figured out that our teaming up would not overpower the others, yet we did complement each other, as he would be able to exercise his powerful right-hand down-the-line shot more frequently. Joe constantly encouraged me to use my head and play with the wind. When we played at Stanford University courts, I remember him pointing to the nearby flapping American flag and giving me a wink, more than once. In some way, he seemed a Method Player, like Method Acting. I marveled at the way he controlled, very methodically , not only the hardness of the shots, but also the speed of the ball’s travel. I observed that he had a system in serving. The same swing, but a variation of speed in four distinct arcs — pull back, reach over the top, sting the ball, and follow-thru.

We had a special bond, as he was very dear and close to his grandson Matthew, whose mother, like me, came to the United States from Hong Kong. Matthew came to play with us old folks many times. Grandfather Joe was very proud, as he was instrumental in encouraging Matthew’s tennis development. Matthew seemed proud of his Grandpa in return. It was a delight to observe the LOVE between them.

Our tennis group often dropped into a nearby bar and grill together for special burgers, beers, and peanuts. We gathered socially with our wives together on special occasions — at one of the members’ home, or a favorite local restaurant. I do not know all the wives real well, but I feel a unique bonding with them, just the same.

Joe and Laurie

Joe’s wife, Laurie, is most friendly and outgoing. I have kept in touch with her through email. She sent me recently a letter Joe wrote that was published by the San Jose PBA –describing Joe’s life journey, challenges, friendships, and more. I shall post it below for your interest:

Oct. 7th, 2010
Bill, ( Bill Mattos, Editor and Publisher, The Farsider – Affiliate of SJPBA )

You and Leroy provide a unique service for us. Being a member of the SJPD wasn’t just another job. It was our lives during the good and the bad. I’m fascinated by the various pieces of news in the Farsider. But then, I became fascinated by cops, what they think, and what they do, starting when I joined the NYPD at the age of 21. I never thought I’d stay at it. My dad retired after 26 years as a patrolman, then took a job as an armed bank courier. Along with his pension, it gave him about the same take home pay that he earned on the P.D. He died five years later of cancer at the age of 56.

I viewed his career as a trap to be avoided. My older brother, who died with 30 years of service with the NYPD at the age of 53, also was never promoted. He never married, either, and lived with my mother, then after her death, with my sister, her husband and three kids. “The Job” was his life and love. When he wasn’t working, he and other cops sat in various bars telling each other cop stories.

Despite my original intent, I fell in love with police work myself as a rookie walking a foot beat in Harlem, then New York’s highest crime area. Our precinct covered only one square mile, but we had 100 homicides a year, My first arrest was of a guy who had just stabbed another guy to death with a 10-inch butcher knife. It turned out it was premeditated and he was indicted for Murder One.

They wanted to promote me to detective because of the arrest, but since I hadn’t yet learned how to be a cop, I was successful in avoiding the promotion. Then Uncle Sam called. My fellow cops thought it hilarious, saying the guy I busted will be out before me. It may well be that given the leniency of the New York courts, the killer did get out during my two years on the “Western Front.” After basic training I was stationed in a very strange place: Van Nuys. For a year-and-a-half I unsuccessfully looked for a city called Los Angeles that was supposed to be in the area. (Those who ever visited New York City will know what I mean.)

What I started to write about today is the GIANTS baseball team. I grew up about a mile from Yankee Stadium. About five of us were mavericks who hated the Yankees. American League ball was boring. The Yankees bought anyone who played well against them. But the National League had the hated Brooklyn Dodgers as well as Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals. My friends and I walked an extra mile past Yankee Stadium to the Polo Grounds to see Willie Mays play in his first year. He will forever be my favorite player. Baseball was the only sport in those years. We lived for it. No NFL or NBA. I played
left field for my high school team. Our home field was just across the street from, Yankee Stadium. In 1952 we played for the NYC High School Championship at Ebetts Field, the home field of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I wish I could say we won and that I starred, but we lost 1-0, and I went 0 for 2. Still, it was quite a thrill for us kids. In 1951, I got home from school just in time to watch Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” off Ralph Branca on TV. All of those years of losses were worth it to beat the Dodgers in the playoffs and win the pennant. Then to our horror, the Giants betrayed us and moved to a far away place called San Francisco, and the Dodgers moved to L.A. They played in the Coliseum, a joke of a baseball park, but servicemen in uniform were admitted free, and when the giants were in town I got to see some games. I played left field on our Battalion softball team and was the only guy who had worked for a living before the Army. The others had all been playing minor league ball. We were to play for the 6th Army Championship finals at the Presidio, and I was looking forward to finally getting to visit San Francisco. Alas, my CO wouldn’t let me go. As Battery Clerk, I was considered indispensable. The First Sergeant and the Executive Officer couldn’t find even a letter in the Orderly Room files.
The team lost, but won second place.

After the Army I put in my years with the NYPD, but in 1964 I had a very painful experience. I was promoted to sergeant in the then-28,000 officer military-style NYPD. It meant an automatic transfer, and I was assigned to an adjacent precinct. While it was still in Harlem, it also took in Columbia University and NY City College. This was during the Vietnam War protests. I immediately sought out the cop who was coach of the softball team and asked when there would be tryouts. He said he was sorry, but they had a firm rule: No Bosses. It would be a full 12 years before I would again play softball. I’m grateful to have been a member of the SJPD for many reasons, but one of the most important is that the troops let me play softball with them. Some will remember that Joe DiMaggio was good enough to throw out the first ball in a charity game that the Chief’s team played against the news media for the benefit of kids in San Jose who had diabetes. When we won 17 to 1, I joked and said it was the only time we beat the media all year.

Joe M with Joe D

I was fortunate to get to know Joe D. As chief, you get to pose with presidents and other big shots, but the only picture hanging on my office wall is of Joe D. with me in center field at Municipal Stadium wearing my Chief’s Office softball uniform. Almost all visitors stop, stare, and ask, “Is that Joe DiMaggio?” He and I talked baseball during several lunches with just the two of us. He even took me to lunch in San Francisco after I came to Hoover. Needless to say, I never mentioned to him that I walked past Yankee Stadium to watch Willie Mays. Our conversations were fascinating, and I’ll send them to the Farsider in the future if there’s any interest.

As some may have guessed, this burst of nostalgia was triggered by the Giants winning the Division Championship. It’s been a strange life for a kid from the Bronx who followed in his father’s footsteps as a flatfoot.

You guys had to put up with me for 15 years, so I’ve hesitated to impose more stories on you. But how often do the Giants win a Championship?

Joe (McNamara) <>

________________________________________________________________ Laurie just told me:

The SJPD Chiefs and officers tell her they still often say,

“What would Chief Joe do?”

In Billy’s mind, he also wonders :

“What should we all do now, Joe ?”