Monday, April 30, 2007

Oldest T-shirt winner?

After our younger son, Greg, competed in a triathlon (swim-bike-run) Sunday in Cape Girardeau, Mo., he sent us some photos.

What his mother and I noticed right away was the T-shirt. Greg competed in the T-shirt he received in his very first competition ever -- 17 years ago.

When he was just 3 years old, Greg wanted to join his older siblings and run the youth one-mile in the Paper Chase, an event sponsored by the Telegraph Herald. Though he was the by far the youngest entrant, and the T-shirt was so long its tail hung out through the legs of his shorts, Greg completed the mile, finishing last with a huge smile across his face.

Yesterday, in his first-ever triathlon (500-yard swim, 15.5-mile bike and 5-mile run) Greg wasn't last and he wasn't smiling. He finished in the middle of the pack and was battling the early signs of heat stroke. But the ragged T-shirt made it through just fine. If only the race sponsors had an "Oldest T-shirt" division.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tommy Thompson pays a visit

As I've noted here previously, Iowans have a special opportunity to interact with presidential candidates -- especially so for Iowa journalists.

On Thursday, I sat in for most of TH political reporter Mary Rae Bragg's interview with Tommy Thompson, Republican from Wisconsin. The former governor and federal secretary of Health and Human Services paid a visit to the TH for more than an hour -- longer than we usually get with time-starved presidential candidates.

I haven't done that well with taking in recent campaign visits of candidates, so I was glad to connect with Thompson. It wasn't his first visit to Dubuque and, no doubt like the rest of the huge field of Republicans and Democrats, I'm sure it won't be his last.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"The Bishop" case changes editor's day

An editor knows his or her day will not be going as planned when the publisher rings your cell phone and asks, "Are you watching CNN?"

That was how my day at the Telegraph Herald began. Publisher Jim Normandin, out of town on business, called from his hotel room, where he saw Dubuque, Iowa, on national cable news.

A Dubuque man, John Tomkins, was arrested by federal authorities in connection with a series of threats and explosive devices sent through the mail. The suspect even had a nickname, "The Bishop."

Postal inspectors and agents of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms conducting searches in your community is not an everyday occurrence.

Though we didn't get the head start afforded the national media -- was it just coincidence that these out-of-town media organizations were in Dubuque before the raid? -- our team has worked hard to put together a comprehensive report -- on an ongoing basis for the Web and in preparation for Thursday morning's print edition.

I wonder what tomorrow's news will bring.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Dose of culture

I am neither a musician nor a student of classical music. I listen to classics as background music in my office during the day. Nonetheless, Sunday afternoon found me at the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra's finale of its classical concert season.

As sponsor of the weekend's concerts, the Telegraph Herald had several "free" tickets. After distributing a few tickets to other TH staffers, I still had a couple left. Madame X was interested in attending, and I wound up being her date.

It was my lucky day. The performance started with a selection I recognized: The Overture to William Tell. (Think, "Lone Ranger" theme.)

Then, after intermission, the highlight of the matinee was the guest performer, pianist Jung Lin. Again, I am not qualified as a symphony reviewer, but I knew that I was hearing someone special.

Forty years ago: "Fore!"

I know what Ray Schalk did 40 years ago today. This is not a monumental development, but whenever I can pick up a tidbit about the off-the-field activities of the baseball Hall-of-Famer, I enter it on the spreadsheet I use to track his life events. These items can help me weave the story that I intend to make into a full biography.

Thanks to Google Alerts, I was directed to a brief mention of Schalk toward the end of a Daily Southtown article. I now know that Schalk, then 74, played a round of golf at his home course, the Beverly Country Club in south suburban Chicago, on April 22, 1967.

At first glance, there is nothing terribly significant in that -- except that his round with Chris Smits occurred the day after the course and its facilities were severely damaged in a killer tornado. Dozens were killed and hundreds injured -- many of the victims not far from the course.

Apparently Smits and Schalk played around the debris-strewn course, which had nearly three dozen of its large trees uprooted in the twister. They were the only golfers that day.

No word on Schalk's score.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

No mocking

Daughter Ellen (front row, left) completed her career on the Drake University mock trial team last weekend at the "Gold Nationals" tournament in Florida. Drake tied for 14th in the nation.

For someone who was a shy young girl, Ellen's progression to a young woman with the poise, intelligence and confidence to compete at the highest level of mock trial is a source of pride (and some marvel) for her parents. The time commitment for these student competitors is extensive, little different than that for student athletes.

Here is a season-wrap up article on Drake's web site. (Photo credit: Drake University)

Congratulations, Ellen!

Friday, April 20, 2007

One of those days

Contact with readers, community leaders and the rest of the general public is a big part of my job. One never knows what the next phone call, e-mail or letter will bring. Most of the interaction is great. However, sometimes it is not so great. Sometimes, it's odd.

Thursday featured a couple of "interesting" customer interactions.

  • The amateur poet. A reader called to inquire if I would publish her poem in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy. The poem, the author said, would give people hope. I explained that the TH doesn't run much poety (we are a daily newspaper, not a literary journal) and that which we do run has to be brief. "How long is it?" I asked. "Oh, it's very long," the reader replied. When I said that the poem didn't sound like something we could accommodate, the reader became increasingly agitated. I was told that I don't care about the victims at Virginia Tech. Click!

  • The crossword puzzle fan. Another reader sent in a letter complaining about a problem with the TH crossword puzzle of Monday, and demanding an apology and correction. Several of us in the newsroom checked out the complaint, and couldn't see any problem with the puzzle or the answers the next morning. The size of the grid didn't even match the number cited by the reader. I phoned him and explained our puzzlement. He, too, became frustrated with me. We couldn't even agree on the number of rows in the puzzle grid! Finally, I asked him to check the page number with the offending puzzle. "Page 50," was the reply. Knowing that we don't follow that sort of paging protocol -- our puzzle ran on 2D -- I told him with confidence that the puzzle was not in the Telegraph Herald. Sure enough, he replied sheepishly, the puzzle was in the Chicago Sun-Times.

We've had our own "issues" with crossword errors in the past. But I'm in no position to deal with another paper's mistakes.

Who knows what today will bring?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Grandpa's assistant editor

Decisions at today's Page One meeting were a little easier because Grandpa had a helper. Claire paid her first visit to the Telegraph Herald while the meeting was going on. So she helped settle a few questions.

Faber program Saturday afternoon

After being snowed out of a public presentation Wednesday (Dubuque County-Key City Genealogy Society), I am next scheduled to present my Red Faber slideshow and sign books 1 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at Borders bookstore, Kennedy Mall in Dubuque.

This is the appearance that was snowed out when originally scheduled in February.

I plan to be at Borders until 3 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

How could you pass this up?

On Thursday evening, I stopped at a new convenience store/truck stop along U.S. 20 west of Waterloo.

Entering the store, I took a second look at the 8-by-10 flier taped to the door.


2 FOR $4



I wonder what the deal is for three sandwiches.

Deadball book subject of web interview

David Jones, editor of Deadball Stars of the American League, which includes my chapter of Red Faber, on Thursday was interviewed by Casey Stern on Radio on Thursday. The 10-minute interview was archived. Though Faber, a spitball pitcher was not mentioned, Jones and Stern do discuss the spitball and its impact on the game. The book also has Brian Stevens' chapter on the subject of my next biography, White Sox star Ray Schalk.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hanging with the (ex) Gov

As vice president of the Iowa Newspaper Foundation, I spent my day today driving between Dubuque and Des Moines and attending our quarterly board meeting.

Except for the several occasions when I hit icy patches on US 20 while driving a mile a minute, it was an uneventful drive.

A highlight of the day was chatting with my "neighbor" at the board table. Based on the random placement of name cards by staffers, I wound up sitting beside Terry Branstad, who joined our board in 2006.

In the books as the longest-serving governor of Iowa (1983-99), Branstad is president of Des Moines University. Our board last year sought to expand its membership to include leaders not currently employed in the newspaper industry, and we were thrilled when Branstad accepted our invitation.

I enjoyed chatting with him during lunch and breaks in the meeting "action." Neither of us mentioned the fact that the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board endorsed him only three of his four campaigns for governor. When I asked about his family, I learned that his daughter-in-law Adrianne is a staff member for a Dubuque County legislator, Rep. Steve Lukan, R-New Vienna. Small political world.

It's no secret that some well-known people agree to associate with certain boards, but only as "honorary" members who rarely attend any meetings or do any work. Not Branstad. He shows up for meetings, he reads the material, he asks questions and he offers suggestions. Today, he accepted appointment to an ad hoc committee.

His experience in state government, his knowledge of every acre of Iowa and now his leadership in higher education make him a great asset to our foundation.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Curve ball

After things started to quiet down around the house on Easter afternoon, I resumed my research on my next book project, a biography of Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk.

Turns out that Ray and the New York Telegram, both deceased, threw me a couple of curve balls that cost me a couple of hours of research time.

In 1929, Schalk described for the New York paper one of the funniest things he ever observed on a baseball diamond.

The situation involved an apparent Washington Senators home run that wasn't. It seems that baserunner Frank Ellerbe hearing the crowd react after teammate Ed Gharrity sent a long drive to left field, thought Chicago's Shoeless Joe Jackson had made a great catch to end the inning. (Actually, the ball cleared the fence on the fly.) Ellerbe stopped running the bases and headed to his defensive position, shortstop, and passed Gharrity, who was making his home-run trot. Passing a teammate is an automatic out, and Gharrity was credited with being the first man to end an inning on a home run.

In the article, the year of the incident was wrong, and the names of the two Senators were misspelled. That makes it tough to do accurate Internet searches. Finally, after straightening out the name spellings, and re-thinking my search parameters, I found accounts of the incident -- which occurred two years later than Schalk stated (1920 instead of 1918). In addition, sportswriters' accounts at the time differed from Schalk's recollection more than eight years later.

The moral of the story is that even witnesses get their facts wrong and that journalists -- then, as now -- can be challenged by name spellings.

Easter visitor

Claire and her parents paid an Easter weekend visit. A highlight of the stay was Bath Time on Saturday night, with her Mom and Grandma assisting. This is videographer Grandpa C's first foray into putting video on the blog.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Eyewitness account of baseball history

One of the unintended benefits of my Red Faber biography project is hearing from people who have their own stories and connections to Faber or the White Sox. On Thursday, for example, I received an e-mail from a great-nephew of Red's second wife, Fran. During my research, I was unable to locate any of her relatives.

It has been nearly 74 years since Faber pitched his last Major League Baseball game. He retired at age 45 after the 1933 season, when he was the majors' oldest player.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised Saturday when I received an e-mail from someone who saw Faber pitch one of his last games. Merrill Smith Jr., the son of a former Dubuque sportswriter and Guttenberg (Iowa) editor, contacted me after reading the Faber biography. Now in his early 80s, and living in Florida, he shared a story of his own:

In 1933 I was 8 years old and went to the world's fair in Chicago. But the real highlight of the trip was that August 18-inning game between the Sox and the Yankees. I never believed the game was stopped because of darkness. It was really stopped because the Yanks had to catch the train.

I don't know about the train aspect, but it is true that on Aug. 21 1933, the White Sox and Yankees played 18 innings before the game was declared a 3-3 tie. After 4 hours and 11 minutes of play - remember, there were no night games in Chicago yet, and the contest started about 3 p.m. - visibility might well have been a factor.

I looked up accounts of that game. Some other interesting features that day:

  • The Yankees broke a scoreless contest with a run in the top of the ninth inning. The White Sox scored in the bottom of the ninth to send the contest into extra innings.

  • The Yankees scored twice in the 11th - and the White Sox again matched them in the bottom of the frame.

  • Over all 18 innings, neither team committed an error.

  • Faber, soon to turn 45, pitched seven scoreless innings and gave up only two hits.

  • The game featured no fewer than TEN future Hall-of-Famers, not including Babe Ruth, who sat out with an injury. (Yankees: Pennock, Lazzeri, Dickey, Gehrig and Sewell. White Sox: Dykes, Simmons, Appling, Lyons and Faber.) Pitcher Ted Lyons' contribution was as a pinch-hitter in the 11th inning.

What a great game for any fan - let alone an 8-year-old boy -- to attend!