Thursday, December 28, 2006

'New' Beatles album interesting

I decided to post about one of the presents I received for Christmas. No, I will not write about handerchiefs or flavored coffee, functional and tasty as they are.

The only CD under the tree -- and one appearing on my "Christmas Angel" suggestions list -- was the new Beatles album, "Love." The CD is a remix of Beatles recordings, expertly handled by George Martin (aka "The Fifth Beatle") and his son Giles.

As someone who grew up listening to songs by the Fab Four when they were released four decades ago, now familiar with every note and little background noise, I found this new release interesting and entertaining. Let's face it: Lots of 1960s pop music was formulatic and forgettable, but the musicianship and genius of the Beatles endure.

The Martins' handling of these Beatles songs is genius, too. After all, who else would have thought of mixing into one track versions of "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "In My Life," "Penny Lane," "Piggies" and "Hello Goodbye"?

Unlike the previous "new release" of a Beatles album, "Let it Be ... Naked" (2003), "Love" is a substantial project and one worth the listener's time and money.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Shoeless Joe on film -- as a spectator?

As a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, I am on a couple of researcher lists. A post today especially caught my interest, because of my research of Red Faber and other members of the Chicago White Sox before, during and after the Black Sox scandal.

Some folks are waging a campaign to get John Wesley Donaldson, an early 20th century pitcher barred from the big leagues because of the color of his skin, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A web site promoting Donaldson has some extremely rare film footage of the star in action, most likely in one of the hundreds of barnstorming contests in which he appeared.

The camera pans to show spectators. Wait! Look closely at the group appearing at 25 seconds on the timer. Who is that man whose straw hat is partially obscured by a foot in the foreground? Could it be Joe Jackson, the virtually shoo-in for the Hall of Fame who wound up banned from organized baseball because of the Black Sox scandal? Some researchers think it is a possibility.


What self-respecting Grandpa doesn't show off a picture of his first grandchild now and then? Here is Claire at about 5 weeks.

Monday, December 18, 2006



After nearly 25 years of selecting comic strips for daily newspapers, I think I have figured out why the comics page sparks so much reader reaction.
  • Comics are popular among readers.
  • Readers achieve a comfort level with their favorites. (I feel the same way when a TV show I like is cancelled -- until another new show comes along.)
  • Everyone can have an opinion about the comics, and they can't be wrong.
I expect to receive plenty of feedback over the next few weeks, as the Telegraph Herald makes another change on its comics page. This change is necessitated by the decision of cartoonist Bill Amend to stop writing "Fox Trot" on weekdays and Saturdays effective on Jan. 1, 2007.

Actually, I have to put some thought into the comics lineup. I want a good mix of features, in hopes that at least one of the strips will snare the interest of each and every comics reader.

To that end, I have decided to give "Frazz" a tryout in January. Readers will have a chance to share their opinion about the strip, which features a popular and thoughtful school janitor, through an online poll.

Meanwhile, Amend will continue to do the Sunday "Fox Trot," but is that enough to make it worthwhile? Or should we run "Frazz" seven days a week? I'm sure readers will have their opinions.

Next up: Ray Schalk

Ray Schalk
(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)

After a few weeks reading and copying a few hundred newspaper article, I am confident that the late Ray Schalk, Hall of Fame catcher, will be a viable subject for a full biography.

Though much of my free time the past four years has centered on star pitcher Red Faber, I can say with some confidence that Schalk was a better catcher than Faber was a pitcher. Both outstanding. Both Hall of Famers. But I found no newspaper articles from the first quarter of the 20th century, quoting baseball experts, that described Faber as the best player anywhere in his position. Many did say just that about Schalk, a long-time White Sox catcher.

My opinion about Schalk was reinforced by the acquisitions editor at McFarland & Co., which published my Faber biography. He thinks Schalk would be a "terrific" subject for a biography.

I hope that we're both right.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Second printing

My biography of the late baseball star Red Faber isn't hitting the Best Seller list, but it is going into a second printing.

I learned today from my publisher, McFarland & Co., that the book is temporarily "out of stock."
The folks at the publishing house in Jefferson, N.C., hope to have more copies printed yet this month.

While I am encouraged that book sales apparently exceeded the publisher's (low?) expectations, I hope folks who want books as Christmas gifts will be able to get them.

The Dubuque retail outlet for the biography, River Lights Book Store, ordered more books late last week. Hopefully, its order was shipped before the "out of stock" sign went up. The Tri-County Historical Society and I have served as "interim supplier" until River Lights' next shipment arrives.

Tonight, I dropped off another half-dozen books to River Lights. As I entered the store, a customer asked the clerk about the whereabouts of the Faber book. She was a little startled to have the author step forward, pull a copy from his grocery bag and offer to autograph it. Before I left, another customer asked me to sign two copies.

So far, we have been able to arrange supply to meet demand. But we're all crossing our fingers for UPS or FedEx to deliver River Lights' order on Thursday.

"Pride of the Yankees" showing Thursday

Though I am out of the office for four days of vacation "at-home" this week, I am looking forward to heading back downtown Thursday evening.

After sitting in for a brief meeting at the office and signing a few Red Faber books, I will head over to Carnegie-Stout Public Library to "host" the Dubuque Film Society's showing of the baseball movie classic, "Pride of the Yankees," the Hollywood version of the Lou Gehrig story.

The program begins at 6 p.m. Refreshments (including popcorn!) are free.

After the showing, I look forward to a discussion of Gehrig, heroes and baseball during simpler times.

Play ball!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Thought the 2006 elections were over?

The Associated Press again sent editors and broadcast executives a ballot with this simple instruction: Pick the top stories of 2006.

Easier said than done.

Sure, the war in Iraq is an obvious pick for No. 1 on the list. After all, this war affects the world on many fronts - U.S. politics, international relations, social issues, and more.

But what about the No. 2 story of the year? Or No. 3 or No. 10?

Is a top story defined by its impact on people (war and natural disasters, for example) or by the interest it generates (the flash of notoriety for John Mark Karr, who falsely claimed he killed JonBenet Ramsey)?

Want to play along at home? We listed a handful of Top Story nominees (trimmed from The AP's original list of about 30) on the TH Web site.

Enter your selections by Monday, Dec. 18.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

All in the Family

Sunday was a special day during a special time for our family. It was Claire's baptism day, when she officially joined the family of Christ.

Newlyweds Jane and Kenny, friends of Kate and Will since their Luther College days, graciously agreed to be Claire's godparents.

Not only did Claire sleep throughout Mass and the baptism afterwards (even the water from the baptismal font did not awaken her), she slept through nearly the entire luncheon staged in her honor.

What a kid!

The only regret that time with family was too short. However, we will reconvene in a couple of weeks for Christmas.

I wonder if Claire will be talking by then.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Great turnout at Carnegie-Stout

More than 50 people attended my presentation Thursday night on the late Dubuque County Baseball star Red Faber. The program was presented at Carnegie-Stout Public Library.

Thanks to all who turned out and added to the evening with some interesting and challenging questions!

I have no further public appearances in the tri-state area confirmed, but I have had some communication with possible hosts.

Meanwhile, I get calls about where the book may be purchased. In Dubuque County, your best bets are River Lights Bookstore, Wacker Plaza in Dubuque (immediately east of Kennedy Mall, and south of Shopko); and the Cascade Pioneer office (on behalf of the Tri-County Historical Society).

Thursday night, I was asked whether I had heard from Red's son about the book. Then, the answer was no (except for the phone call that the book had arrived). Urban II phoned on Friday and said he is in the chapter detailing his father's 1915 season. (His reading was delayed by some health problems.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Fox Trot creator to cut back

It was a phone call I neither expected nor appreciated.

My Universal Press Syndicate sales representative called to say that Bill Amend, creator of the popular "Fox Trot" comic, has notified Universal that he is cutting back the comic to one day per week -- Sundays.

Amend, apparently, wants to devote time to screenplays.

Worse, the change is effective Saturday, Dec. 30. After that date, Peter (left) and Jason Fox, will not appear in the TH Mondays through Saturdays.

That doesn't give me much time to identify a replacement strip.
Further, I will need to decide whether to keep "Fox Trot" on Sundays only (I'm inclined to say yes).

Didn't Amend have a contract? Yes. However, Universal, which prides itself on being creator-friendly -- it leads the industry in giving its clients repeat strips to give cartoonists vacations -- also gave Amend an "out" clause in his contract requiring little or no notice.

Why is it that the creators of the most popular strips are the ones who bail? Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes") and Gary Larson ("The Far Side") were two who "retired" prematurely.

The comics page is not my No. 1 concern. However, it is a high-interest feature for many readers, and we want to have a fun variety of features for them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Red and the Iron Horse

I have appearances at Carnegie-Stout Public Library the next two Thursdays.

At 7 p.m. Dec. 7, I will give a 30- to 40-minute slide presentation on Red Faber's life. Afterwards, for folks who are interested, there will be a sale (thanks, River Lights) and autograph session for my new Red Faber biography.

At 6 p.m. Dec. 14, I am the "host' for the showing of the classic baseball movie, "Pride of the Yankees," the Lou Gehrig story. My duties are to introduce the award-winning movie and, after the showing, moderate a brief discussion among audience members. In preparation, I watched the movie over the weekend. (See Babe Ruth, shown above with Gehrig, playing himself.) The careers of Gehrig (1923-39) and Faber (1914-33) overlapped, so I checked into how many home runs the Iron Horse hit against Red. The answer: Four. When? July 13, 1925; May 6, 1928; May 4, 1929 (one of three homers Gehrig hit that day); and July 14, 1930.

It's an interesting movie. Hope to see you the next two Thursdays.