Monday, July 30, 2007

Soggy St. Louis

On Friday and Saturday, I was in St. Louis for the annual national convention of the Society for American Baseball Research.

Friday was a tiring day -- travel, lunch with a book publisher, book-signings and some symposium sessions. Yet, after some other free-time possibilities for Friday night fell through, I bought a fellow conventioneer's spare single ticket to the St. Louis Cardinals-Milwaukee Brewers game at new (Year 2) Busch Stadium. As a fan of the Chicago Cubs, who are between those teams in the standings, I rationalized that, no matter who won, the Cubs would realize some benefit.

Busch Stadium, just a short walk from the convention site, is a nice ballpark. Unlike the traditional (ie, old) Wrigley Field, it has all the latest electronic features to keep fans informed and entertained.

The game started a few minutes late due to a heavy rain. The sky cleared, but by the top of the third inning a monsoon hit.

That storm passed after 30 minutes or so, and the game was a few minutes from resumption -- when I heard the rumbling of more thunder coming our way. It was at that point -- tired, anticipating another weather delay and without any emotional stake in the outcome -- I decided to bail.

Here is how I watched the resumption of the game, a Brewers' romp over the defending World Champs.

Turns out there were no further delays, and the game ended shortly before 11 -- after I had conked out. The Brewers haven't won since, the Cards beating them twice Saturday and once Sunday.

Anyway, though my ticket ended up costing me $10 an inning, that was about in line with other prices at Busch -- such as $7.50 for a 12-ounce beer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Columnist's crusade puts Dubuque in bull's-eye

Over the past week and a half, Dubuque has received attention and criticism from supporters of Chicago police officer Michael Mette. An Iowa District Court judge recently convicted him of assault causing serious injury after a 2005 altercation initiated by Jake Gothard, a highly intoxicated college student hosting a paid-admission beer party in Dubuque.

The off-duty officer, who was visiting the city with his brother, says he acted in self-defense and delivered a single blow. The prosecution said there was more to it than that, and Judge Monica Ackley agreed.

Under Iowa law, conviction on this charge mandates five years of prison time. Judge Ackley does not have power to reduce the sentence or put the defendant on probation.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass took up Mette's cause with columns the past two Sundays. The first focused on Mette's account of the incident and railed against Ackley's decision and the sentence. Kass suggested that local clout influenced the case.

Since it involved Iowa, the column included the predictable allusions to pigs and corn.

His second column reviewed reaction -- positive and negative -- to the initial column and reported that Mette's supporters are mobilizing.

Kass said of Mette, "He's a young patrol cop being squeezed, and he can't believe it, and I can't believe it." Unlike a news reporter, a columnist has more latitude in telling the tale and in expressing his or her opinion.

At the TH, the court judgment was ticketed for a routine Tri-State Page brief. That would have been a mistake. There is more to it than a few paragraphs under a headline, "Off-duty Chicago cop convicted."

We published a couple of stories on the case last week, with special attention to Kass' column, criticism coming Dubuque's way and comments from prosecutor Tim Gallagher.

Kass' second column stated, "The local Dubuque newspaper, the Telegraph Herald, is calling me a 'legendary muckraker' who is 'training his scorn' on Judge Ackley."

That's correct. We did.

"That's awfully flattering," Kass continued. "But I use a hoe in my garden, not a rake, and I can't be legendary, since I've only just turned a sprightly 51, a mere child in my own mind."

We weren't trying to flatter Kass, but we also were not using "muckraker" description in a perjorative sense. Muckrakers, a proud part of U.S. journalism history, investigate and expose corruption, injustice and fraud. These days, newsrooms don't have enough muckrakers to keep up with all the muck.

As for the age issue, Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, two celebrated muckrakers, wrote their best-known exposes when they were in their 40s.

Another legendary muckraker was the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko. His successor in that slot at the Tribune was John Kass.

Anyway, I'm not a lawyer or a judge. Assigning or absolving guilt in an alcohol-fueled altercation is not easy. Kass managed to do that, and I suppose that talent is one reason why he works in Tribune Tower and I hang out at Eighth and Bluff.

But I do know many folks involved in law enforcement and the courts here, and I don't believe that they are "homers," blindly taking the side of the local subject over an out-of-towner.

A couple of local defense attorneys told me that one under-emphasized issue in all this is mandatory sentencing. Even Gallagher says there was no appetite for sending a cop to prison. But that is required under Iowa law.

Mette is scheduled to report to prison -- a more dangerous scenario than usual, given his occupation -- in a few months. He is expected to appeal the conviction. As the case plays out, expect more criticism of Dubuque and Iowa. And references to pigs and corn.

-- From the Telegraph Herald, July 24, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

'The Glass Castle' worth the loss of sleep

I can't say I wasn't warned.

When a colleague offered to loan me the Jeannette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle, she said several readers before me had reported disrupted personal schedules and lost sleep. The book is that riveting.

Now bleary eyed, I can report that she was right. I stayed up well past my bedtime, set aside my own writing project and took in telecasts of a Chicago Cubs night game this week with only an occasional glance.

Presented in concise chapters and written with expert simplicity and clarity, the memoir focuses on the incredible story of Walls' first 18 years as a member of a worse-than-dirt-poor family. As reviewer Lucianne Goldberg put it, "Romulus and Remus had a better upbringing."

Though the children rarely had enough to eat -- Jeannette would secretly 'dumpster dive' through her classmates' trash to get some lunch -- they somehow acquired and maintained a hunger for knowledge.

The adults used the sink-or-swim method of parenting. The mother, a wannabe artist, was educated but disconnected from her parental responsibilities. Wherever the family lived -- and it was usually in squalor and one step ahead of the police and bill collectors -- the father was the Town Drunk. He was full of big ideas and false promises, including building The Glass Castle. Yet, somehow, the parents imparted enough information, experiences, education and philosophy that their children made successes of themselves (while the adults continued a downward spiral). Eventually, the Walls children left home and went out on their own before they finished high school.

Walls, now a gossip columnist for, worked her way to Park Avenue in New York, the same city where her parents lived, by their own choice and actions, the homeless existence.

I recommend The Glass Castle. But I also recommend that you not start reading it until you have a major block of time. You won't want to do anything else until you finish it!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday night blues

Sunday evening's entertainment was a free performance at Dubuque's Jackson Park featuring a local blues band, James Kinds and the All-Night Riders.

Kinds writes virtually all the songs on the band's playlist.

A nice show on a great evening.

Hoerner biography on the web

I have had the opportunity to write biographies (long and/or short) on three late Major League Baseball players. Coincidentally, all three were pitchers. Two were Dubuque County natives.

In addition to my full book on Red Faber, I wrote condensed biographies of Faber for the book Deadball Stars of the American League and also for the Society for American Baseball Research's ambitious endeavor called Biography Project. A Hall of Famer, Faber was born on a farm outside the Dubuque County community of Cascade.

Bioproject has as its lofty goal to produce a journal-length biography of every person who ever played in the major leagues -- even just a single inning -- or who contributed significantly to the majors. The articles are posted on SABR's Internet site.

Recently, SABR posted my article on another Dubuque County farm boy, Joe Hoerner, who was born outside Dubuque in 1936. Though he did not make the Hall of Fame, Hoerner played at the highest level. One of the game's early relief specialists, Hoerner came up with Houston Colt .45s (forerunner of the Astros). Later, he appeared in two World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals (1967 and 1968) and was named to the National League All-Star team in 1970. He might be the only pitcher whose final delivery of his major league career resulted in a hit batsman and on-field fight. The incident reflected his competitive nature, but ran contrary to his off-the-field friendliness and generosity.

Hoerner's widow, Darlene, worked closely with me on the article; in addition to being an interview subject, she helped line up interviews with Dal Maxvill, his former teammate and business partner, and manager Red Schoendienst.

In between the Faber and Hoerner biographies, SABR posted my article on Jack Sutthoff, whose National League pitching career spanned the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the most interesting aspects of this piece was that I received lots of research assistance from the pitcher's son, Bob, who is well into his 90s.

The Biography Project probably will never reach its goal of batting 1.000 with biographies. However, there are hundreds posted. If find that those about lesser-known players are actually more interesting. Check them out!

Photo (c) Houston Astros

Friday, July 13, 2007

Paying a call on Lisa and Paul

Friday morning, I visited on the air with Paul Hemmer and Lisa Bennet, the morning team at KGRR, the classic rock radio station sharing another corner of Eighth and Bluff streets.

The occasion was a shameless plug for my Sunday feature interview with Paul as part of the Telegraph Herald's Newsmakers series. Paul soon will mark 40 consecutive years of morning shows in Dubuque. He has 47 years in Dubuque radio, and is an accomplished musician, band leader, composer and arranger. Further, he is the youngest-ever recipient of the TH's First Citizen Award, receiving the honor in 1976.

We had a lighthearted chat for 7-10 minutes. It was a fun way to "warn" listeners that Hemmer will "grace" the TH front page Sunday. A longer version of the interview, plus some video, will be posted on THonline by 10 Sunday morning.

Thanks for the visit, Lisa and Paul!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Looks at books

There aren't many people who can make it as a full-time writer, but Dubuque has one in Robert Byrne. A member of the Billiards Congress of America's Hall of Fame for his writing on the sport, Byrne is a novelist, biographer and compiler of humorous and curious quotations. Plus, he writes a monthly essay for the Telegraph Herald.

The Dubuque native made the conversion from editor of a civil engineering magazine to full-time writer during his 40 years living in the San Francisco area. He returned to his native city 11 years ago.

Byrne was the presenter at a Carnegie-Stout Public Library brown-bag program on Wednesday, to an audience of about 30 people. He read from his first essay to receive national publication and his current novel in progress, and took questions.

Byrne's first novel, "Memories of a Non-Jewish Childhood," was a narrative of a youth's experiences and observations about being raised Catholic in a small Midwestern city in the 1930s. Let's just say that some of the opinions and events would not receive endorsement from the Church.

Byrne based many of his characters on real people in Dubuque, some of those depictions were not particularly flattering, and many folks had little trouble figuring out who they were. It was all pretty provocative 37 years ago. In the clip below, Byrne talks about some of the local reaction he received after the book came out.

Next Wednesday noon (July 18), the speaker at Carnegie-Stout will be Katherine Fischer, Clarke College professor (and TH columnist), whose book of river essays, "Dreaming the Mississippi," is receiving nice notices around the country.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why do 'people' misuse quotation marks?

In this “column” several years ago, I noted that, when writing, many people include an apostrophe when making a word plural. The results include:
  • No check’s accepted.
  • Buy ticket’s here.
  • High prices are unfair to consumer’s.
  • The team has four game’s left.
Not only is the apostrophe unnecessary, it is incorrect.
Soon after that column, inaccuracies of that sort “disappeared” from the tri-state landscape. Just kidding. Yes, many people still add an apostrophe before the s when making a word plural. However, I am not aware of this offense causing “injury” or “death.”

Turns out that I’m not the only one tilting at windmills. Far from it.

Graduate student Bethany Keeley (pictured) is taking on the curious practice of placing “quotation marks” around “words” when they are not needed.

Keeley in 2005 created a blog to call attention to odd, humorous and sad examples of bad punctuation. Its name is The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Here are some examples from her blog, taken from signs posted here and there:
  • Rest Room “OPEN”
  • Lunchmeats with “NO” MSG!
  • We will be closed on 7/04 to observe ““Independence Day” (yes, two quotation marks at the beginning)
  • Bike Lane “CLOSED”
  • Crazy “Low” Prices!
  • Please Do Not Throw Paper Towels in the “Toilet”
The authors of these “signs” apparently intended to give emphasis to certain words. I guess that the underline and bold type wouldn’t do it. As Keeley noted, “I would really like to know what so-called toilet this sign is over.”

Keeley, 24, soon will begin doctorate study in speech communication at the University of Georgia, from which she recently received her master’s degree. Her research revolves around the rhetoric of religion, politics and culture.

“I’ve been passionate about writing my whole life,” she told me. “Even when I was a kid I wanted to be a published writer and spent a lot of time reading and writing stories.”

Keeley added, “I started the blog, though, because I thought it was funny to intentionally obfuscate misused quotation marks, because the unintended meaning was usually pretty great.”

After grading exams for a public speaking class, Keeley couldn’t resist mentioning that a student wrote that the speaker in the sample speech might change the “wording” if she were speaking to Congress. (In a speech, what else would one change?)

As word of her blog spreads, Keeley receives enough submissions to post examples up to several times a day.

She doesn’t use many examples from newspapers. Thank goodness. “I tend to give journalists the benefit of the doubt,” she states on her blog. “Quotes in headlines tend to be there for a reason.”

There are many other blogs dealing with the use and abuse of language. One focuses on the aforementioned abuse of the apostrophe. Another compiles examples of where, in otherwise all-capital-letter signs, authors use lowercase for the letter L. So, for example, a sign advertising a certain breed of dogs states BEAGlES FOR SALE.

While these “sites” are largely a diversion for bloggers, there is a message: Some “people” still care about “word’s” — including spelling, grammar and, yes, punctuation.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Good heavens, lots of 7s

We didn't really plan it this way -- really -- but my workout Saturday morning with running partner Dennis followed a particular (and peculiar) pattern.

If you haven't read a newspaper or a calendar lately, you know that Saturday, July 7, 2007, is abbreviated 7/7/07. Some people wonder if all these 7s will bring them good luck. (Since the date is the same for everybody, will everybody experience good luck? That might be pushing things.)

Anyway, Dennis and I made a last-minute change in workout plans and agreed to meet at Heritage Trail in Sageville at 7 a.m. Due to the change in location, I was running a bit late, and arrived a few minutes (7?) after 7.

We intended to run to the Durango point on the trail, a round trip of eight miles, but, according to our elapsed time and pace, we determined that we covered slightly less than eight. Thus, in honor of the day, I entered in my running log a distance of 7.7 miles.

It was a warm morning, even at that hour. Could it have been 77 degrees? Perhaps.

Anyway, wonder what is in store for 8/8/08.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Tourist in your own town

My brother Kevin and family (his wife, Lora, and children Erin and Stephen) visited us from Omaha for a couple of days starting on Independence Day. We had a great time, and it was an occasion for us to do some "touristy things" in Dubuque and the immediate area.

We went on the new Eco-cruise offered by the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. For 75 minutes, we rode a pontoon boat on a guided tour of some of the river environment -- things you'd miss on a speedboat or an excursion boat in the middle of the channel. We floated into Catfish Creek, which feeds into the Mississippi River south of Dubuque.

Afterway, we strolled the Dubuque Riverwalk and visited the Stone Cliff Winery's new location in the Dubuque Star Brewery building (still under renovation).

We rode the Fenelon Place Elevator -- the world's shortest, steepest railroad -- to the bluffs overlooking downtown Dubuque.

There, we could gaze upon three states -- Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

We then crossed over the Mississippi and made a brief visit to Sinsinawa Mound, headquarters of the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters. Nephew Stephen was particularly interested in the prayer/meditation labyrinths (indoor and outdoor versions) on the campus.

After an afternoon of being a tourist in our own community, we adjourned to the house for a delicious cookout and the umpteenth viewing of one of both families' favorite movies, "What About Bob?" (1991).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Faber exhibit open for business

Independence Day 2007 marked the official opening of the renovated Red Faber exhibit at the Tri-County Historical Museum in Cascade, Iowa. Immediately after Cascade's July 4, the ribbon-cutting ceremony and exhibit opening enjoyed a strong turnout.

Cascade native Don Crawford, 92, who in October 1933 played in an exhibition game with Red Faber (the last competitive game in which Faber appeared) , cuts the ribbon to open the renovated Faber exhibit. At right is Lee Simon, historical society member and driving force behind the museum project.

Baseball and local history fans line up to enter the Faber exhibit. I estimate that 150-200 people came in during the first two hours.

Don Crawford, now of Des Moines, poses with another Cascade native, Gary Dolphin, "Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes." Dolphin donated to the museum a simulated radio broadcast of the last half-inning of the 1917 World Series, when Red Faber of the White Sox closed out the New York Giants.

Most of the exhibit features photographs -- of Faber, his teammates (including the Black Sox), Hall of Fame opponents and other baseball notables of the era. Other features include Faber memorabilia; the most recent item came in as the museum opened -- the loan of a baseball that Faber autographed at the same October 1933 exhibition in which Crawford played!

If you would like to see the Faber exhibit, it might be wise to check ahead first. Regular hours are Sunday afternoons during baseball season, or by appointment (563-852-3589).

Monday, July 02, 2007

Faber exhibit a hit

I had the privilege of attending Monday's private preview of the Tri-County County Historical Society's new and improved Red Faber exhibit.

The official opening of the exhibit is Wednesday (Independence Day) morning, after the parade in Cascade.

The exhibition room exceeded my expectations. It's organized well, features beautiful specially made display cases, memorabilia and dozens of photos provided by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The instigator of the project was Lee Simon (at right in this photo), who, with Mary Lee Hostert (above) were extremely supportive of my Faber biography project.

Two of the features are audio: Gary Dolphin's simulation play-by-play broadcast of the 1917 World Series' conclusion, and Faber's brief and modest acceptance speech upon his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.

Fans of baseball and local history should pay the museum a visit. Regular hours are on Sunday afternoons.

Granddaughter update

Claire turns 8 months old on Tuesday. What a two-thirds of a year it has been!

On Sunday, Grandma, Aunt Ellen and I paid her a visit. (Claire's parents were there, too.) Also stopping in were Uncle Andy and Aunt Josie, who were celebrating their first anniversary over the weekend. (Congratulations!)