Monday, March 31, 2008

Happy birthday, G!

Our "baby" turns 21 today. Since his parents are old and forgetful, they failed to coordinate who would mail his birthday card. So his bail money will be late. And so he will need to celebrate responsibly.

In any case, Happy birthday, G!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

3 clowns in the sub shop

So there I was, just enjoying a relaxed, business-related lunch at a local sub shop, when a couple of clowns walked in.


Dave and Cherie Gregg, a husband-wife clown duo, were in Dubuque on Wednesday to drum up publicity for the arrival of The Big Show, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, May 10-11.

They entertained people on Main Street and elsewhere around town -- and they stopped in Pickerman's to provide some lunchtime entertainment.

"I need a volunteer," Dave announced, standing about two feet from me. "Preferably someone wearing a yellow shirt."

At a performance in Thailand, I once volunteered to lie flat on my back while an elephant stepped over me. I survived that, so I figured a mishap with juggling tools couldn't be too painful.

To add to my experience, it happened that the clowns were being shadowed by a Telegraph Herald photographer, Kori Newby. She was good enough to share the images. (That she was ordered to do so had nothing to do with her cooperation.)

By the time the exhibition was over, there were three clowns entertaining the patrons.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Late-inning review

It's been about 16 months since the first copies of my Red Faber biography reached bookstores, so I sort of figured that the time for book reviews had passed.

As usual, I was wrong.

The book recently received a nice write-up in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. The journal "seeks to promote the study of all historical aspects of baseball and centers on the cultural implications of the game wherever in the world baseball is played. The Journal reflects an eclectic approach and does not foster a particular ideological bias." It is published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Reviewer Harry Jebsen, a retired history professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, described the biography as "a nicely done, easy-to-follow book on one of the lesser-known residents of the Cooperstown museum."

I'll accept reviews such as those whenever they come.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

The Major League Baseball season opened today -- albeit on Japanese soil -- with Boston defeating Oakland 6-5 in 10 innings. (For the record, Oakland was considered the home team.)

This month also marks the 100th anniversary of the release of the baseball standard, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." One of the earliest recordings of the tune released in 1908 featured vocalist Edward Meeker (pictured), whose singing is heard on the slideshow.

Allen Barra wrote a full feature on "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for The Wall Street Journal last Saturday. Barra said the song's wild popularity "may have been sparked by the pennant races of a century ago, which had sports fans talking long after the 1908 World Series ended." By the way, the Chicago Cubs won the 1908 National League pennant in a wild race, and then beat Detroit in the World Series. The Cubbies haven't won a World Series since.

Could this year be the Cubs' "next year"?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter 2008, starring Claire

Another attempt at video editing by Grandpa C.

Parental warnings during NCAA games?

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is under way. It's a high TV-viewership time for network CBS. One would assume that the audience for the tournament games, especially for the afternoon games, will include young people.

Of course, CBS is using commercial breaks to hype its own shows, including Monday's episode of "How I Met Your Mother," featuring a guest appearance by Britney Spears (taped, one would assume, between her meltdowns) playing a ditzy office receptionist.

The punch line of the commercial is her character's question to a guy in the office: "Can we have sex and then go shopping?"

Hilarious. Just what parents of pre-teens and young teens want their basketball-fan-children to be exposed to while watching basketball. Kids are being bombarded with these messages (and worse); does CBS have to contribute during ball games?

Thanks, CBS.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Remember the Pacer?

A colleague today mentioned that, years ago, she owned a Pacer. A Pacer! I had forgotten about one of the most unattractive and least successful automobiles ever to come out of Detroit.

In the mid-1970s, a college friend named Scott owned a Pacer. It was interesting the first ride or two, but after that it lost its appeal. It was, by no means, a Chick Magnet vehicle. (It had to have been the car's fault, right?) But it was reliable transportation. And besides, his parents loaned it to him. Beats walking. Almost.

I knew that the Pacer, with its extra-wide body, bubble design and glass all over, was a financial flop for the American Motors. But I didn't know it was that bad. Yet there it is, on the blog World Auto News & Reviews, heading the list of 10 Most Idiotic Cars of All Time.

While I never owned a Pacer, I did own another car on the list -- the AMC Matador. It is listed as the No. 8 worst. My car wouldn't have been that bad if it looked like the one in this picture. By the time I acquired a Matador, it was around 1984, and the vehicle exterior was a dull maroon. The only good thing about the paint color was that it hid all the rust. I knew I was in trouble when, after handing over the cash for the vehicle, it wouldn't start.
Just a loose battery cable. But it was an omen nonetheless.

What is the worst car you've ever owned (or regularly driven)?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I "borrowed" this photo of my granddaughter from my daughter and son-in-law's blog. As you can see, Claire is moving quite independently these days.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Remarkable Mr. Mack

I have just finished reading Norman Macht's fine new book, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (University of Nebraska Press).

I recommend it to anyone interested in baseball history -- or just U.S. history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Macht spent 22 years on his Mack project, which covers nearly 700 pages. He states he needed all that "to try to adequately—and accurately—depict just the first half (through 1914) of the life and times of the remarkable Mr. Mack.” Indeed. There was so much to tell.

Connie Mack (1862-1956) was original manager and part-owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, and one of the founders of the upstart American League. He did this for an incredible 50 years. You read that correctly: For a half-century. During that span, he managed some of the best -- and worst -- teams in the history of the game.

By 1914, when his Athletics won their fourth American League title in five years, home and road attendance for Athletics games was suffering. The attitude was that Mack's team was so efficient, workmanlike and colorless, that it was not exciting to buy a ticket to see a squad defeat its opponents with such precision. Imagine -- being too good to be interesting! (The start of the Federal League and the Great War in Europe did not help the Shibe Park turnstiles, either.)

It was at this point -- in the off-season of 1914-15, as Mack dismantled his great but aging team, with the intention of rebuilding another winner -- that Macht's biography ends.

Macht makes no mention of the two players of special interest to me: Red Faber and Ray Schalk. Their Chicago White Sox careers did not take off until Macht's tale ends. Schalk's first full season in the majors was 1913, and Faber opened his major league career in 1914 (when, in one of his first appearances, he one-hit Mack's defending World Champions, giving up the lone hit on a borderline decision in the ninth inning).

However, the biography does have a half-dozen mentions of an American League pioneer with Dubuque ties: Tom Loftus. A St. Louis native who settled in Dubuque, where he owned a tavern, Loftus was major league manager, including of the Chicago Orphans (now the Cubs) and original Washington Senators.

It took a while, but Mack built another Athletics powerhouse, taking them to the World Series three consecutive seasons (1929-31). Incredibly, he managed the team through 1950, when he was 87 years old.

Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball is in the collection at Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque. Check it out (after I return it!).

Photo: Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Leadville update

I have had a couple of posts previously about environmental and safety reports concerning my favorite vacation location, Leadville, Colorado. I received this update today:


Things are progressing since our last update. On February 27, the Environmental Protection Agency began pumping water from the Gaw Shaft to relieve some of the pressure on the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. Local officials continue to work with state and federal agencies for a permanent solution. The water in Leadville remains safe, and is being tested daily.
Sounds good! Good thing, because we're planning to be in Leadville for a family (and I mean lots of family) vacation this summer.

Argus connects

The Telegraph Herald editorial page regular carries column-closers by Hollywood comedian Argus Hamilton. He hit a home run with this one:

Hillary Clinton
declined comment on New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's prostitute scandal. He was set to support her at the Democratic Party convention. Hillary couldn't have picked a more embarrassing super-delegate if she had married him.

More of Hamilton's quips are available online -- and by reading your favorite local newspaper.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dubuque Night in Des Moines

Even in this Internet age - with e-mail, Webinars and cell phones - sometimes there is no substitute for "face time." It takes personal interaction to get things done.

That's why the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce continues to host its annual Dubuque Night in Des Moines, the 35th installment of which Wednesday night jammed Diamond Jack's at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

I am not a regular at Dubuque Night. In fact, my only other visit was 1992 or earlier. It was such a good time, I will plan to attend again sooner than 2024.

The reception is an opportunity for Dubuque governmental and community leaders to tout their All-America City with their guests - Iowa legislators, state officials and maybe even a bureaucrat or two - and to convey thanks for previous support. Some 375 people, including about 50 lawmakers, attended.

Also in the house was Gov. Chet Culver, who apparently had a good time -- he stayed and chatted for more than two hours. With his was his wife, Mari, who is a Dubuque native.

Since I was the only Telegraph Herald newsroom employee in the house -- well, as it turned out, Megan Gloss was there, but she was "on duty" with the band -- I filed a short story and captured some video. The final product appears on our newspaper's web site. For the video, edited back at the ranch by Tony Frenzel, go to our Multimedia center and click on Mayor Roy Buol's face.

By popular request

Some 3-4 weeks ago, I posted an old snapshot from the younger two kids' least favorite summer vacation. That was six years ago.

Of course, that stirred requests for other snapshots, perhaps involving other members of the family.

Glad to accommodate. This one is probably 25 years old. Title it Pancake Fans.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Visitors from Omaha

We played host to my sister, brother-in-law and their two sons, Adam and Eric, this weekend. The made the drive from Omaha. A grand time was had by all.

We made the last half-hour of the operation day at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

Does spelling count?

The afternoon concluded with a brief tour of the Telegraph Herald. Looking into the sun is no bargain for the boys.

Adam is making his First Communion in a few weeks. As part of the celebration, he and his classmates are making their own personalized quilts.

Part of the reason for the visit to Dubuque was to call on the expertise of Madame X (also known Aunt X). In the video, 6-year-old Eric assists where he can.

By the end of the evening, Maddie had warmed up to the idea of some Lap Time.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Glad Sad All Over

Mike Smith, frontman for the British Invasion band The Dave Clark Five died last week (Feb. 28). He was 64.

Smith stands mugging for the camera, second from the right in the photo.

One of the band's hits was "Glad All Over." Make that Sad All Over, not only because of his passing -- he had been in poor health for a few years -- but because he died less than two weeks before the DC5 will be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. The ceremony is this coming Monday. Here is a link to the Hall's band biography.

Smith played Dubuque less than a year before he suffered a spinal cord injury in September 2003. (Unfortunately, I missed the show.) He had been hospitalized four years, until entering a specially constructed home in December 2007.

When I was a kid, for a time the Dave Clark Five was my second-favorite band, behind (who else?) The Beatles.

Though Dave Clark was the band leader, composer of their hits and producer of their recordings, it was Smith who provided the raw, powerful lead vocals.

The band's site features a juke box. Check it out and vote for your favorite in my poll.

Rest in peace, Mike.

Surprise nomination

I received a surprise in my e-mail this morning, when I learned that my Red Faber biography is among 10 finalists for the prestigious Larry Ritter Award of the Society for American Baseball Research.

The award honors "the best book published each year, primarily set in or primarily about the deadball era."

The award subcommittee announced the books under consideration. The other nine finalists:

Balloting begins this month, and award is presented at the SABR convention this summer.

You've heard it said, "It was an honor just to be nominated"? Well, that's my feeling here. And it's a surprise to be nominated, because I had no hand in it.

I haven't read the other eight books, but I'm just finishing Macht's biography of Connie Mack, and it's tremendous. (More on that soon.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

After 122 years, moving on

The Sporting News, the nation's oldest sports publication, is moving from its original home, St. Louis, to Charlotte, N.C., the Charlotte Business Journal reports. The Sporting News' online operations moved there last summer.

In my baseball research, I make heavy use of back issues of The Sporting News -- for nearly a century THE publication for baseball fans. (In recent decades, the publication has suffered at the hands of competitors and, of course, instant sports via the Web.) In its earliest years, the publication also covered the theater.

The web version of TSN microfilm is a bit fuzzy, but it is searchable and oftentimes the only source for certain arcane information, such as minor league line scores or standings. Searching is free through Paper of Record. Try it.

I feel sort of sad about the move -- but why? It's a national newspaper, so it's not like the baseball Cardinals, football Rams or hockey Blues will receive any less coverage. It uses all the current technology for its newsgathering and processing, so it really doesn't matter where the content is amassed and processed.

Still, I think it's unfortunate that, after 122 years in the same city, the magazine is being moved to be closer to its corporate siblings.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Back home again

My vacation time in Florida ended when this American Airlines jetliner pulled away from Gate D4 at Southwest Florida International Airport at Fort Myers. Despite being stuck in a holding pattern for 20 minutes about 150 miles from Chicago -- something about a runway at O'Hare being taken out of service -- I managed to make my connecting flight to Dubuque.

My Dad, shown with Beverly, were wonderful hosts. The vacation time -- three days, following a newspaper conference -- consisted mostly of, as my Dad likes to describe it, "Doing nothing, slowly."

For the record, this business of visiting Florida during the winter season is not without peril. This sign appears just a few steps from the entrance to Dad's building. There have been alligators just on the other side of the fence, occasionally giving animal control officers a tussle. No sightings this trip, however.

Though it was a relaxing trip, it is good to be back. Really.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

History and bargains

One morning of my visit to Florida involved the Punta Gorda flea market and some local history.

I spent several minutes at the flea market talking about newspaper sales with Chuck, an independent contractor promoting the Charlotte Sun. He has been at it six years. Chuck says November and January are his best months, though February was unusually strong.
Punta Gorda features a historic, restored railroad depot that also houses an antique mall. Restored in the early 1990s, the facility sustained damage during Hurricane Charley in August 2004. Punta Gorda is where Charley made landfall. The back side of the depot is still in need of some repair.
In the interest of historical authenticity, the entrances to the "separate-but-equal" ticket windows and waiting rooms retain their designation. According to local officials, the decision to repaint the signs over the doorways involved leaders in the African-American community.
The area behind the ticket window is maintained as a local historical museum.