Thursday, December 31, 2009

Who had 640.2 in the office pool?

I recorded my last run of 2009 shortly after 6 this morning, a 4¼-mile jaunt along Grandview Avenue in 15-degree weather. Just Judd Ott and me on the course; we didn't see any other runners out this morning.

Anyway, I completed the year with 640.2 miles. I covered 759 miles in 2008 and 742 in 2007. Considering that I missed virtually all of May, July and August 2009 with knee and back issues, the total is OK.

However, also considering that one of my New Year's Resolutions was to have a good year of competition, it was a disappointing season.

So, I will dust off my resolution and hope for a better season in competition -- perhaps including races longer than the 5K-5 miles I usually enter.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Do not try this at home!

I know that some people celebrate winter, but this is a little much!

Safe travels and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One fan's White Sox all-star team

Today I came across a YouTube slideshow of baseball fan avalsonline's picks for an all-time Chicago White Sox lineup. It's a fun little show, including the Sox fight song in the background.

I was glad to see that two of his starters are the subjects of my biographies, Red Faber and Ray Schalk. Though I don't claim to be an expert on White Sox history, in my opinion, these picks were for the most part solid -- lots of recognition for the old-timers -- with only a couple of questions.

Though I think Schalk deserves his place in the Hall of Fame and is under-recognized by the Sox and their fans, I wondered about Schalk and Sherman Lollar both coming in ahead of Carlton Fisk in the catcher's position. Also, Eddie Collins might deserve more recognition at second base.

Anyway, watch the slideshow and make your own judgment.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

12 Colts a-drumming?

I was recruited to take part in a fun little video related to the Telegraph Herald's home-grown feature on Sunday's Current page. Here is a link.

Now, any more questions why I don't sing?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Biography takes balls -- four of 'em

From the Toot Your Own Horn Department:

My book Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography received a top rating from a reviewer on a baseball blog. Apparently it was posted nearly three months ago, but I just learned about it.

The review by Richard Coreno appears on the blog At Home Plate.

Coreno gave the biography a rating of four balls, defined as "An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy."

Thanks, Mr. Coreno!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

5 miles of tunes

I logged a 5-mile run this morning. That's not saying much, I know, but it was only my second run of that distance this injury-filled year. (The previous occasion was Feb. 1.)

Anyway, the run felt pretty good, and I enjoyed a variety of songs on my MP3 player along the way. The control dial on my player is out of control, so I am effectively limited to "play all" and shuffle. Here is how today's mix came out:
  1. #9 Dream – John Lennon (always plays first)
  2. Medley: Splish Splash/Beyond the Sea/Artificial Flowers/Clementine – Bobby Darin
  3. Shape of Things – Max Frost
  4. I’m Not Guilty – C.J. Chenier
  5. Rhythm of the Rain – The Cascades
  6. Stand by Me – John Lennon
  7. Up the Ladder to the Roof – The Supremes
  8. Michelle – The Beatles
  9. The Times Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan (Unplugged)
  10. Be-Bop-A-Lula – Gene Vincent (pictured)
  11. Way Over There – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  12. Ooby Dooby – Roy Orbison
  13. Savoy Truffle – The Beatles
  14. Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen
  15. Words (Between the Lines) – Neil Young

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Schalk relative reflects, remembers

Since the Schalk biography was released this fall, I have heard encouraging words from several of his relatives. This week, I received a nice letter from a great-nephew. It reads in part:

I just finished reading your book "Ray Schalk" and wanted to say how much I enjoyed the reading. Thank you so much for taking up the subject of my Great Uncle Ray Schalk. Mom had told us of all the correspondence back and forth between you and she and I was very much looking forward to the completion and the arrival of the book.

As we have all said in family long after his passing, we wished we would have had more time with Uncle Ray when he was around, and had more knowledge of his playing days and background. But as a youngster, you don't know the magnitude of someone like that until it's too late and they are gone. I remember thinking that yeah he was someone big back "in the old days" but I want to hear about Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Johnny Bench and those guys who hit the big home runs and so forth.

What really struck me about the book was how big a personality he was during his prime in Chicago. Being the second largest city in America at that time, he was a household name to anyone who followed baseball in Chicago, if not the rest of the country. I always thought he was kind of just there, sort of in the background on a team with Joe Jackson and the star pitchers. He really was something else and was very durable over those years. Not to mention all the celebrities he associated with, that was another story altogether.

He was quite a guy, a small man from a small town who made big in the big leagues. I remember when he came down, he always had his cigars with him and always dressed very well.

He was still pretty gruff at times. I recall one time he took us to an Illinois-Purdue football game in Champaign, III. My Mom and brothers went, for some reason my Dad didn't go, and I don't recall if Aunt Vin was there or not. Anyway we have great seats, probably on the 50-yard line. Later during the game and he asks me who I'm rooting for. Naturally, I'm from Illinois and I say "Illinois." He says something like "what the hell you doing, I bring you over here to see Purdue and you're rooting for Illinois!" I think it was half show and half serious, he didn't know that I didn't know his connection to Purdue. I believe I was about 11 or 12 at the time. Ah the fun old days with Uncle Ray.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How I spent my (fall) vacation

I used a couple of vacation days last week for yet another trip to Chicago. I spent most of it in this building -- the main library of the University of Chicago, which houses a massive newspaper microfilm collection.

I used the time to go through the Daily Maroon, the UC student newspaper, for the final two years of Jay Berwanger's undergraduate years. The Daily Maroon, by the way, printed three days a week.

Berwanger, a Dubuque native and UC '36, won the first Heisman Trophy.

About 150 microfilm copies later, I came home able to fill some gaps in my bid to capture a better feel of campus life (including athletics) in 1934-36, when Berwanger was literally the Big Man on Campus.

My thanks to Ray Gadke, microform manager, for his support and assistance during my "campout" in his department.

Last week's trip might be my last to UC for research -- but then again you never know.

After organizing articles and notes, I hope to start writing by Christmas.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Congratulations, Ellen and Adam!

I'm going to be a father-in-law again!
Adam proposed over the weekend, and our daughter Ellen said "Can I think about it?" YES!
Adam works for Wells Fargo by day and pursues his master's degree at night. He's a great guy -- for a Packers fan.
No specifics on the nuptials as yet, except the plan is Fall 2010 in Dubuque.
Congratulations, Ellen and Adam!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A fun tour to Montgomery County

Folks in Montgomery County, Ill., were hospitable, friendly and enthusiastic during my mini-tour promoting my biography of the late Chicago White Sox star Ray Schalk. I gave a slideshow and autographed books on three occasions -- Saturday morning, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. (In between the first and second events, I traveled to Chicago for research on another book. But I'll save stories about that for the next post.)

Schalk was born in Harvel and raised in Litchfield, both Montgomery County communities.

The first event was at the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum in Nokomis, where my hosts were Jim Eisenbarth (left) and Steve Johnson. More than 40 folks attended, making it a standing-room-only affair.

Tuesday night about 15 people squeezed into the Litchfield Public Library; my hostess was library director Sara Zumwalt. Then, at 7 Wednesday morning I was the guest of the Litchfield Rotary Club, whose member Bill Dees provided encouragement and assistance with the biography and with arrangements this week.

Dees and some other baseball supporters in Litchfield are working on a project to re-dedicate Ray Schalk Fields in the spring of 2010. Seems that many folks know of the ballfields but not of the man for whom they were named. I hope that book will help raise local awareness.

Thanks to all who made it such a fun experience.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Booksigning venue featured on front page

In just a few days -- at 10 Saturday morning, to be exact -- I will present a slide show and sign copies of my Ray Schalk biography at the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum in Nokomis, Ill.

Coincidentally, and conveniently, The State Journal-Register in Springfield featured the museum today in a front-page story. Unfortunately, the article didn't mention my upcoming appearance. But the article certainly can't hurt.

Monday, October 05, 2009

When Berwanger made the grade

On my most recent trip to Chicago, I continued to research the first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger, for the biography I will write. I went through more documents in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Papers stored in the University of Chicago Library.

I found a nugget that certainly will find its way into the book. It is a letter dated February 19, 1933. Stagg (pictured) was on his way out as University of Chicago football coach and athletic director. After four decades in the positions, Stagg was forced out by university officials, who invoked the rule requiring faculty members to retire at age 70.

Stagg's letter was to his successor as football coach, Clark Shaughnessy, then coach of Loyola (New Orleans). Stagg offered Shaughnessy his congratulations and best wishes, and then presented his analysis of what Shaughnessy would inherit in the way of a football team.

Berwanger was a freshman year at UC; at the time, players could not join the varsity until their sophomore seasons.

"If Berwanger is eligible," Stagg wrote, "you will inherit the fastest and the best set of backs that have ever represented the University of Chicago." Stagg, who was about to begin a 14-season stint as coach at the University of the Pacific, cited Berwanger, Pete Zimmer and Ed Cullen as being big (all over 180 pounds) and "exceptionally fast." He added that Zimmer and Berwanger were "exceptionally clever."

Apparently the only question in Stagg's mind was whether Berwanger would pass his UC comprehensive exams and stay eligible. No one, including Dubuque native Berwanger, ever claimed he was Rhodes Scholar material. Five months later, in mid-July, when Berwanger and most of his teammates passed their exams, the achievement made the Chicago papers.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Getting to the Point

Brewery Pottery, on the outskirts of Mineral Point, Wis.,
was built as a brewery in the 1850s.

Josie, Madame X and Andy outside Brewery Pottery.

Lots of the original (or extremely old) features
are still in use on the Brewery Pottery building.

Does anyone know? Is this a genuine Wisconsin badger?

Our Sunday activity centered on an outing to Mineral Point, Wis. We met our son and daughter-in-law, Andy and Josie, for lunch and stops in a dozen or so art galleries and shops.

It had been a long time since I spent any time in Mineral Point -- 20 years, I'd guess -- and the small community has evolved into quite the arts community. Lots of galleries, arts shops (including textiles) and working studios.

Highlights included Longbranch Gallery, an extensive tour of the Bruce Howdle studio, lunch at Cafe Four and finally the Brewery Pottery (where I finally remembered to pull out the camera).

On the Brewery Pottery campus we spied in an empty building a creature peering back at us. Was it one of those Wisconsin badgers? None of us knew for sure.

Anyway, Mineral Point will be among the Southwest Wisconsin communities participating in the Fall Arts Tour, Oct. 16-18. Consider checking it out!

Friday, October 02, 2009

You can say that again, Paul

Chicago Tribune sportswriter Paul Sullivan had an astute comment in his dispatch the other day, after the underachieving Chicago Cubs lost both games of a doubleheader to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.

Sullivan noted that, despite the Cubs' fade in their quest for a third straight season with a playoff berth, the team topped 3 million in attendance for the sixth consecutive season.

Said Sullivan: Seldom have so many paid so much and received so little in return.

Friday, September 25, 2009

To the airwaves

On Thursday, I was the guest on Voices of the Tri-States, the KDTH-AM interview program hosted by veteran Dubuque broadcaster Tom Berryman.

The topic was the Schalk biography.

I thought the interview went well -- particularly because it was evident that Tom had read the book. He had some good questions.

KDTH archives the programs, so if there is any interest in hearing me bluff my way through an interview, click the link.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Another Berwanger research trip

The first Heisman Trophy, on display in the Ratner athletic building.

Jay Berwanger's University of Chicago uniform and Hall of Fame certificate.

I used a couple of vacation days Tuesday and Wednesday to travel to Chicago for more research on Jay Berwanger, the subject of my next biography.

On Tuesday, after a 4 a.m. wake-up call, I was on the campus of Berwanger's alma mater, the University of Chicago by 9:30. I visited with Athletic Director Tom Weingartner and Sports Information Director Dave Hilbert, both of whom worked with Berwanger on special events. In the library, I found in the Special Collections research center an interesting letter from Amos Alonzo Stagg to his newly named successor Clark Shaughnessy in which Stagg describes some of the players Shaughnessy would inherit, including Berwanger. I also spent a couple of hours in the campus library, poring over newspaper microfilm. I then took the commuter train back north, to the Chicago Public Library, where I reviewed the Chicago Herald-Examiner's coverage of Berwanger's sophomore season (1933), until about 7 p.m. It was a full day, to say the least.

Wednesday morning found me back at the same microfilm reader-printer at the Chicago Public Library, where I reviewed the Herald-Examiner's coverage of the 1934 season, Berwanger's junior campaign. By 1:30, I had lunch and decided I had had enough for this trip. I have learned that when one gets too tired while reviewing microfilm, one (meaning me) tends to cut corners -- and that can be a problem later, when it's time to write. I walked back to Union Station, caught the commuter train back to Elgin, and drove back to Dubuque.

All in all, it was a productive trip. I got dozens of articles and verified certain facts (such as first wife Philomela Baker Berwanger's graduation date). But more research treasures await my next excursion to the Windy City.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Interactive maps an aerial history lesson

Neighborhood in 2002

The Iowa Historical Society blog recently noted that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has an interactive map on the Web.

Those of us who have used Google maps for aerial views of certain locations might not be terribly impressed. However, there is a feature I haven't seen elsewhere. The DNR map not only has current (recent) aerial views, it also has aerial views from the 1950s and 1930s.

So, clicking on the appropriate checkbox allows a visitor to get a glimpse of a selected region 50-plus or 70-plus years ago. It also overlays current street locations, so it is easy to get one's bearings. So, for example, one can spot the oval horse track that once existed in today's Flora Park, the old ballpark along the Dubuque riverfront or the farmland that is today the subdivision where Madame X and I live.

I'm still learning more about using the site, and there are good instructions available, but one tip right away is to turn off your pop-up blocker for this site.

"Neighborhood" in 1950s

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Surprise ending to author's program

Claire during a quieter moment at the
booksigning: What is this contraption, Pop?

UPDATE: The customer mentioned below contacted River Lights to express her embarrassment for disrupting the proceedings. Fortunately, she reported that she was released from the hospital the day after the incident and was home. Good news!

The first booksigning event since release of my book Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography took place Friday night at River Lights bookstore in Dubuque, as scheduled.

What wasn't scheduled was the abrupt ending to the author's program, during which I read a couple of short passages and started the Q&A portion. Just as I started to answer Lee Simon's question about what more I learned about the Black Sox scandal, an elderly woman in the front room took ill. She seemed to lose consciousness and then became nauseated. An ambulance was summoned, and quickly the Dubuque Fire Department crew, stationed just a few blocks away, was on the spot and transporting her for medical attention.

Thus ended the Q&A.

No word on her condition. Unfortunately, I don't her name.

Claire and Lise showed up their parents just as the ambulance was pulling away. Once things returned quieted down, I visited with a few more baseball fans for another hour or so.

Early arrivals were Tom and Paula Michel, who came from Waverly, about 100 miles away. Paula's family, from Farmersville, Ill., knew Ray Schalk. In fact, Paula's brother received a uniform from the Hall of Famer.

Anyway, it was a booksigning I'll not soon forget.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Paper in Schalk's home county mentions bio

The Journal News of Hillsboro, Illinois, recently printed an article announcing publication of the Schalk biography.

The paper apparently plans to do a review of the book in the future -- hopefully (if the review is favorable, of course!) before my programs and booksigning events in the late White Sox star's native Montgomery County, Oct. 10-14.

Meanwhile, tonight (Friday) is my first booksigning for the new biography: 5:30-7 p.m. at River Lights Second Edition, 11th and Main in Dubuque.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

32 and counting

On Labor Day morning, I was a finish-line volunteer at the Mississippi Valley Running Association's 32nd annual Dubuque Benefit Classic -- a 5k (3.1 miles) and half-marathon (13.1 miles).

Thus, I had a good vantage point to see local running history. Retired teacher Fran Ouderkirk (left), wearing the remnants of the T-shirt from the inaugural Benefit Classic, extended his record of completing every half-marathon in the event's history. (Officially, the half was cancelled in 2002 due to thunderstorms, but Fran was on the course when Mother Nature washed out the race. So that has to count.)

Congratulations, Fran!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lawyers cast doubt on groundbreaking Black Sox book

Urban "Red" Faber in 1917

An extensive article in Chicago Lawyer challenges the account of the Black Sox Scandal as presented in the 1960s by the late Eliot Asinof in "Eight Men Out."

The article is making the case that Shoeless Joe Jackson was innocent in the 1919 World Series fix and should be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

It's an interesting article, but I'm not convinced.

That Red Faber was an Asinof source was affirmed when the late author's notes were reviewed. No surprise there.

However, the authors took issue with Faber as a source, apparently, because Faber did not actually pitch in the 1919 Series. They made it seem that Faber was laid up with the Spanish Flu, which had reached pandemic levels in 1918, and not in a position to observe.

That someone did not play does not mean he was not present. Faber was on the Sox roster for the Series, but after being ineffective or inactive for much of the last half of the 1919 season -- after-effects of the flu earlier in the year caused weight loss and no doubt contributed to his ineffectiveness -- he was not used. He attended each of the eight games of the series.

Further, the article does not address Asinof's contention that the Black Sox figures continued to lose some games in 1920. Faber himself told Asinof about it -- and Red was a victim of indifferent and bonehead play by the Black Sox figures, including Jackson.

Jackson's defenders point out that Shoeless Joe played errorless defense and hit the only home run of the 1919 Series. True. However, defenders can hurt their team without being charged with an error. A throw a little late to a base. Or thrown to a wrong base. Or missing a cutoff man. And the home run? It came in the third inning of the final game, when the Sox already trailed 5-0. Hardly a game-changing moment, but a homer nonetheless. Does that prove that Jackson played his best throughout the series? No one alive will ever know for sure.

Asinof is not necessary the last word in Black Sox research -- the recently deceased Gene Carney was a contemporary expert, and he expanded upon, affirmed and clarified Asinof's findings. I don't consider myself an expert. But after researching Faber and Ray Schalk, I am not ready to go along with the magazine article's authors, who focus on Asinof, overlook questionable events in 1920 games, disregard that Faber was present during the 1919 Series and ignore subsequent research and findings about the Black Sox.

Did Shoeless Joe get a raw deal? Let the debate continue.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Wrigley excursion

Though I have publicly abandoned all hope of seeing the Chicago Cubs playing in the post-season, I did follow through (since I had paid for this five months ago) and go on a bus trip to a Cubs game on Wednesday.

Since we arrived at the ballpark before most of the players, we had time to kill. That included sitting in what I thought might be the worst seat in the house -- the most distant chair in the ballpark. But things are not always what they seem at Wrigley. Actually, from the spot pictured, a fan in Section 503 can look out onto Waveland Avenue, depository of opponents' home runs; gaze westward across the expanse of the city; see the sailboats on Lake Michigan; and get a pretty darn good look at the whole ballfield.

Next trip, I might request to buy that seat.

Monday, August 31, 2009

So that's what she does

Our older daughter moved back to Dubuque a year ago to teach biology at Loras College. I sort of knew what Kate's graduate research at the University of Wisconsin involved, but comprehension of the details escape me. (When I was in school, I avoided the wing where science was taught, let alone the actually classes.)

Anyway, she wrote up an description of her research interests that even I can understand (somewhat).

Today marks the first day of classes in her second year at Loras. Good luck, (assistant) professor!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Schalk book added to library collection

My friends at Dubuque's Carnegie-Stout Public Library, 11th and Bluff streets, have added my Ray Schalk biography to the collection.

The development made the library's official blog, which is handled by Mike May.

During my research on the Schalk biography, as well as my Red Faber project before that, the library staff was great help. A special shout out goes to Mirdza Berzins, who helped with many Interlibrary Loan transactions and many other searches.

Thanks, Mike, Mirdza and the crew at Carnegie-Stout!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I give up.

After the Chicago Cubs today lost 5-4 to the last-place Washington Nationals, lost the series to the aforementioned cellar-dwellers and remain nine games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central Division, I have exhausted all hope that this team will rebound and make the playoffs.

OK, the standings do make it clear that the Cubs would face long odds to catch the Cards now. But bigger leads have been lost this late in the season. (Remember the 1969 Cubs or, more recently, the Mets?)

In a way, it will be nice to have the rest of the season free -- free from concern about the Cubs. No need to check scores. No need to stay up past bed-time to watch the end of extra-inning games. I'm unsubscribing to the Cubs post-game alert e-mails; win or lose, I don't care.

For the record, I will still go to a game next week in Chicago as part of a bus trip. But also for the record, I bought my ticket in March, when every team is in First Place.

By the way, this is a separation, not a divorce. Cubs in 2010?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

IBM brings service center to Dubuque

After a nearly year-long process, IBM has opened its global technology service center in Dubuque.
The first 300 employees are working in the renovated Roshek Building downtown, with another 300 due to be hired by the end of 2009. Another 700 or so are to be hired in 2010.

The occasion was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning on Locust Street just outside the Roshek Building.

The senior IBM official on hand, Mike Daniels, was the wrap-up speaker.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shameless plug

I was interviewed today by Iowa Public Radio concerning my new book, Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography (McFarland & Co.)
The interview, which runs more than 40 minutes, airs statewide on "The Exchange" 10-11 a.m. CDT Monday, Aug. 24.
The network also offers live streaming.
The program will be available as a podcast (for 10 days afterward) and as an MP3 (indefinitely).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Family time

Madame X and I arrived home from our New England vacation in time to take my Dad and his good friend Beverly to a private event we co-hosted -- wine-tasting, dinner and dancing (to Sid V and the Human Resources) at Park Farm Winery, outside Bankston, Iowa, about 20 minutes west of Dubuque. About 30 people attended.

The next morning, Saturday, Dad got reacquainted (after more than a year) with great-granddaughter Claire and was introduced to his other great-granddaughter Lise.

Andy and Josie came over from Madison, and that evening we (that includes Claire, Lise and their parents) enjoyed a cookout.

It was a great wrap-up to my vacation. Now, back to work!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The rain in Maine is something we disdain

Actually, rain never impacted our 11-plus days in Maine (and other New England states). There was an overnight T-storm, but that was it. Our sunny and dry (and occasionally foggy) weather was the exception, not the rule, this summer -- so the locals told us -- and we made the most of it.

Here are a few pictures from our trip. When time and energy permit, I might do a little slideshow, but these will have to do for now.

Our home away from home for our
first week, at Prospect Harbor, Maine.

The fog rolls in at Prospect Harbor, about a half-mile
from our cottage.
Lobster boats and pleasure craft share the harbor.

Our favorite site was Schoodic Point, on the "quiet" section of Acadia National Park. It was just 10-15 minutes from our cottage. Just as beautiful as the main section of Acadia, at Bar Harbor, one peninsula down, but much less crowded. We spent several hours here, in our 3-4 visits, just taking in the scene.
One visit to Schoodic Point included
a picnic lunch, under the watchful eye of a "local."

At Schoodic, we came across international
sculptors working granite during a summer-long symposium.
Ear plugs were provided.

As we started making our way to points south, we happened upon Fort Knox in Prospect, Maine (not to be confused with Prospect Harbor), which happened to be hosting its annual "Pirates Day." This gentleman didn't appear to be from Somalia, but we didn't ask questions.

The old and new bridges at Prospect, Maine. The new structure,
Penobscot Narrow Bridge and Observatory, allows visitors to take in the scenery from 400-plus feet up -- a little unnerving for some. But we made it.

Our visit occurred during Maine's Fiber Arts Tour. Madame X claims the timing was just coincidental. In any case, we found some interesting sites, including this alpaca farm, where the family spun, dyed and sold alpaca yarn.
Is this Lexington or Concord? (The latter.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Young visitor

The highlight of my day at work today was a visit from my two granddaughters (accompanied by their Mom).
The younger of the two is Lise, who just turned ¼ last week. Here is a photo of Lise taken later in the day.

To the catcher goes no glory

A baseball fan just noted on his blog that when a major league pitcher throws a perfect game, the catcher -- the one calling the pitches and keeping the hurler focused through 27 straight batters -- gets little or no recognition. Sure, the pitcher has to make the pitches, but he has eight players supporting him -- and none more important than the other member of the battery.

Ray Schalk, who caught Perfect Game No. 5 in the majors, appreciated that fact. (He also caught 2 or 3 no-hitters, depending on how and when the records were kept.) Throughout his life, Schalk made it a point to personally congratulate the catcher of every no-hitter or perfect game.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Schalk connection to Sox perfection

When Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game this afternoon, it was only the second such gem in Chicago White Sox history.

Until today, the only Sox perfecto occurred in Detroit on April 30, 1922, when rookie Charlie Robertson, making his third start of the season, blanked the Tigers. His catcher that afternoon was the subject of my upcoming book, Ray Schalk.

With 25,000 Tigers fans booing and howling at him, the 26-year-old Robertson kept throwing whatever Schalk signaled. In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers tried to rattle the Texan. Batter Harry Heilmann complained that Robertson was doctoring the baseball. Umpire Dick Nallin found no evidence. Later, Tigers star Ty Cobb walked to the mound and boldly inspected Robertson’s uniform for foreign substances or a device to scuff the ball. Cobb then walked over to first baseman Earl Sheely and did the same.

Decades afterward, Schalk said, “They did everything they could to upset Charlie,” he recalled. “But it didn’t bother him a bit. I could have caught every pitch sitting in a rocking chair.” Following Schalk’s signals, Robertson continued to mow down each Detroit batter.

The Chicago defense was not particularly challenged. The 1922 game featured no record-saving catches like Dewayne Wise's homer-stopping catch in the ninth inning today.

By the time Robertson stepped on the mound in the eighth inning, the spectators in Navin Field were well aware that they might witness something special. Though they booed him just an inning earlier, Detroit fans in the eighth started cheering Robertson to keep it going.

Having retired all 26 opponents to that point, Robertson coaxed pinch-hitter Johnny Bassler to lift a fly to left fielder Johnny Mostil, who squeezed the ball for the historic final out.

Afterwards, Chicago Tribune reader “R.F.” made this observation: “All praise to Pitcher Robertson of the White Sox for his perfect game – he surely deserves it – but I have not read one word of commendation for the wonderful little player who caught him. Schalk probably called, as a conservative estimate, 90 percent of the balls pitched. Why not give him a share of the glory? Think the result would have been the same with a second- or third-rate catcher?”

To that end, Schalk made it his personal practice to personally contact and congratulate the catcher of every no-hitter (or perfect game). He appreciated their contribution to history.
For the record, the catcher for Buehrle was Ramon Castro.

By the way, when Buehrle threw a no-hitter in April 2007, the home plate umpire was Eric Cooper (no relation). Today, the ump was -- yes -- Eric Cooper.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Four seconds of fame

My brother Mark was interviewed on Omaha TV yesterday.

That's him, between seconds 9 and 13, telling a tall tale about smelling the food and stopping by Ribfest in Council Bluffs. I bet he had the event on his calendar for months.

The woman without the speaking role (who can't get in a word edgewise) is my remarkably patient sister-in-law Janet.

No word yet on how much the Channel 7 ratings tumbled over this one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Meet the family

I had a great trip to the Chicago suburbs on Tuesday, when I met the late Jay Berwanger's two sons and daughters-in-law and (by conference call) daughter.

They were extremely generous with their time, their memories and family memorabilia. They will help me greatly in my project to write a full biography of the famous Dubuque native.

Just one story: When they were growing up as the children of the first Heisman Trophy recipient, their home displayed no football memorabilia. For decades, the famous trophy was tucked away in their basement or sitting in a relative's house.

I deeply appreciate the Berwanger family's assistance and hospitality!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Back to work on Schalk book

My inactive period during the Ray Schalk biography process is over.

After a few months away -- the manuscript was submitted at the end of January -- I'm back on duty for Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography. Today, a box containing page proofs of the book reached my doorstep.

My task is to proofread the book and complete an index -- and do so in short order. The publisher expects to receive my changes and index, make the fixes and print the book in less than one month. The book is scheduled for printing on August 6.

I start this work with some sadness. On Monday, I learned of the death of Gene Carney, the leading expert on the Black Sox scandal, who provided me feedback on the Black Sox section of my manuscript and wrote a favorable advance review of my work. The New York resident died in his sleep Sunday while vacationing in Alaska. I regret that Gene won't receive a copy of the finished product with my note of appreciation.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

An outing with Claire

As mentioned in my previous post, Madame X and I took Claire to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium on Friday. She enjoyed looking at the fish, lizards and otters, certainly, but the playground equipment had a special attraction.

It was a good workout for all concerned!

Friday, July 03, 2009

How does she do that?

Claire turned 2 2/3 (that 2.67, if you prefer decimals) years old today, and she spent a chunk of the day with "Ma." With some reluctance, Claire let "Pop" hang around part of that time.

She (Claire, not Ma) had some trouble settling down for her afternoon nap. When Pop checked on her later, this is what he observed.

Apparently she wanted to resume her post-nap activities with a running start.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A special day

Sunday was a special day -- the baptism of our second granddaughter, Lise Marie.

From left: Godparents Andy and Josie, Father Dan Knepper holding Lise, parents Kate and Will (holding Claire).

It was a beautiful day -- from the gorgeous weather to the attendance and support of family and friends.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Night glow in Galena

I returned to The Galena Territory this evening for the Great Galena Balloon Race's night glow event. This time, Madame X accompanied me.

Despite my early wake-up call, and a nap of but 6 or 7 minutes, I held up OK.

I was able to introduce Madame X to "my" crew from the morning balloon flight. Bert, Jane, Elizabeth, Sean and Heidi had Goldie set up for night glow, the twilight event where the pilots, with their balloons tethered, simultaneously fire their propane burners to produce a spectacular sight.

It was a great evening.

Balloon ride worth the early wake-up

Bert Gaessler

I don't relish setting my alarm for 4:15 a.m. -- especially on a weekend. But today was different.

I had the opportunity to go on a hot-air balloon ride as part of the Great Galena Balloon Race, at The Galena Territory in Northwest Illinois.

My host was Bert Gaessler, of Rockford, Ill., one of the most experienced pilots anywhere. He has been flying balloons since 1978. His resume includes serving on the crew of Kevin Uliassi, a record-holder whose attempt at a solo around-the-world flight ended in Burma (now Myanmar), about halfway toward the goal, due to oxygen supply problems.

Bert's wife, Jane Jaworski-Gaessler, served as his crew chief and drove the "chase" or support vehicle -- no easy assignment on the winding roads of Jo Daviess County. In the gondola with Bert and me was Shawn, a regular member of Bert's crew. Other crew members included Heidi (no time for last names) and Bert and Jane's adopted daughter, 9-year-old Elizabeth.

This was my second flight. My first was more than in Ottumwa, Iowa, 25 years ago, when upon landing in a farm field the gondola tipped on its side. I was prepared for anything.

I arrived at Eagle Ridge Resort's North golf course in the Territory for check-in at 5:15 a.m., and we were aloft somewhere about 6. Our flight was to be 45-60 minutes, but Bert, a retired carpenter, went overtime to find a suitable landing site. I certainly didn't mind!

One of the great things about riding in a balloon is the quiet. In between the WHOOSHES of the propane burner, you hear nothing but the breeze and occasional sounds of life below, be they barking dogs, mooing cows or vehicles along Highway 20.

The expert pilot, Bert set down the Goldie on a gravel road just off U.S. 20 near Woodbine, Ill. No tipping! Jane, in regular communication with us via cellphone, was pulling up as we set down.

I estimate the trip at about 12 miles, as the balloon flies. It was a great experience! Thanks to Bert, Jane and the crew.

Here's a video from my ride. (By the way, the chirping birds you hear came with the music track.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First e-mail

I was surprised to find in my e-mail "in" box a message bearing my older granddaughter's name in the "sender" line.

Claire dictated the message to her mother, who dutifully typed it in:

"Pear" ...
P-O-P Pop!
Pear have number on there! (the pic you took of her)
Go park with Ma.
Play at park. Play at new park.
Play in fire truck and blue fire truck. Two.
Pop at TH.

Then, apparently, her mother was too slow at the keyboard, so Claire took over. As a result:


Thanks, Claire!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

1990: When Mr. G made headlines

Telegraph Herald front page: June 3, 1990
(click page for larger image)

Granddaughter Claire's participation (at age 2 years, 7 months) in "some" of yesterday's Grandview Gallop one-mile for kids on Saturday brought back memories of 19 years ago.

On June 2, 1990, son Greg, at age 3 years and 2 months, seeing his older siblings entered in the kids mile in a previous Telegraph Herald running event, The Paper Chase, announced that he wanted to run, too. So we signed him up, and he was given the smallest T-shirt available.

When the race began, and the older kids took off, Greg trotted the course with yours truly. My recollection is that he ran the whole distance -- no walking -- but one of us might have stopped to catch his breath. That memory is fuzzy.

Anyway, being by far the youngest entrant, Greg got lots of attention and encouragement from the spectators. TH photographer Mark Hirsch caught the image above of Greg, race shirt hanging out of his shorts, approaching the finish line. It made the front page the next morning.

As recently as 2-3 years ago, Greg wore that T-shirt, tight and filled with holes, in a triathlon. That must be some sort of record.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On Gallop Eve//update: race report

Update: At Saturday's race, Claire seemed a bit overwhelmed by the proceedings. She walked (slowly) with her Mom (and sister) a while, and that was enough. She later said that she did "some" of the race. And that was good enough for her! Meanwhile, her Dad got third in his age group!

My right knee has not recovered adequately for me to defend my age-group title in the Grandview Gallop, a four-mile road race in Dubuque. The fourth annual race is tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

However, I will be there in an official capacity -- starter and announcer. The Telegraph Herald is a major sponsor of the race.

Meanwhile, 2½-year-old granddaughter Claire is excited to be entered in her first race, a one-mile for kids. At packet pick-up this evening, she gave us a little preview of her run -- huffing and puffing no extra charge -- but seemed more interested in the playground equipment at Murphy Park.

Focus, Claire, focus!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What the heck is this?

The Iowa chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, of which I am a member, recently received a photo and communication from Shona Frese of the baseball museum in Norway, Iowa.

Seems a gentleman donated a piece of equipment, explaining it was his father's in the 1920s.

What is it?

The donor and museum speculate that it is related to spectacles.

"It is made similar to a catcher's mask but it only fits over the eye area (that is my opinion)," Frese wrote. "It has small leather pads. I tried it on over my glasses and it seems to fit pretty well. I am thinking a player might have worn it so he would not break his glasses or perhaps to help hold the glasses on."

Anyone have any insight on this?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Research trip - Chicago

(Click on photo to enlarge) Jay Berwanger, third from left, with fellow University of Chicago backs, in 1933, his sophomore season. From left are Vin Sahlin, Pete Zimmer, Berwanger and Ewald Nyquist. (Archival Photographic Files, apf4-00462, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.)

I spent two long days in Chicago on Jay Berwanger research this week. Though I considered possibly hitting three locations this trip, it didn't work out that way. Aside for 90 minutes at the Chicago Public Library on Thursday evening, I spent all my time at the University of Chicago, where Berwanger gained his perpetual fame on the football field and became winner of the first Heisman Trophy.

All my time was in the university library, and all but two hours of that was in the Special Collections Department, where the staff was incredibly patient, helpful and cooperative.

The university has incredible archives, including papers from the Department of Physical Education and Athletics and the AA Stagg Collection.

This was my first time on the UC campus since the summer of 1972 or 1973, when I ran in one of the University of Chicago Track Club's famed open track meets. It was the last (and perhaps only) time I ran a 3,000-meter steeplechase. This trip, I didn't come home sore and wet.

Critical Mass - Chicago

I spent a couple of days in Chicago this week, doing research on my next book. In the Big City, visitors should expect the unexpected. That was the case Friday evening, when I was walking to Union Station.

Without warning or fanfare, thousands of bicyclists filled the street (Jackson Boulevard). Filling every lane of traffic and stretching for at least a dozen blocks (probably more), the bicyclists were taking part in Critical Mass-Chicago.

I hadn't heard of Critical Mass before last night, but I learned that in Chicago it is a monthly event. No political agenda. No cause. No fundraising. It's just a celebration of bicycling. In some communities, only dozens or a hundred ride; in Chicago, well, thousands ride.

It was interesting, of course, but after several minutes of waiting to cross the street -- these bicyclists didn't observe the stoplights, apparently with police permission -- I started to worry that I might miss my train. (I didn't.) Several motorists, apparently, had somewhere else to be -- as evidenced by uninterrupted blowing of their horns (as if the riders would respond by stopping and letting the cars across).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Greg's graduation video

As mentioned here previously, our youngest, Greg, received his bachelor's degree from St. Louis University on May 15.
His Dad finally put together a little video.


A classmate loaned me a bound volume of every copy of the student newspaper printed during our high-school years in the Chicago suburbs. It offered the proverbial trip down Memory Lane.

Our journalism teacher regularly invited professionals to speak to her students. One such visitor was Richard James, then a 10-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal. The student paper’s article on James’ visit concluded this way:

Looking at newspapers from a technical standpoint, Mr. James sees the newspapers of the future as very different from those of today. “Who knows?” he smiled. “It might be delivered electronically to everyone’s home!”

He made the statement in February 1971. Who's smiling now?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Open for business

In the last day or two, the publisher of my upcoming Ray Schalk biography, McFarland & Co., added the book to its web site, indicating that it is ready to take advance orders.

Another sign that there will be a book about this late star of the Chicago White Sox!

As noted previously, release is targeted for late summer or early fall.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Memo to the last out of the 'nest'

(Published in the Telegraph Herald, May 19, 2009)

To: Greg

From: Dad

Subject: Last but not least

Nearly 11 years ago, as your oldest sibling headed out to start college, I wrote a column to her. In the halting style of newspaper headlines, it was titled, "To first child to leave 'nest.'" I offered fatherly advice, some of which she might have actually considered. And she turned out OK -- so far.

While the "first" events in a family typically receive most of the attention -- the first to graduate, the first to be married, the first to become a parent and so on -- the "last" has special standing as well.

A few days ago, you became the last of you four Cooper kids to secure a bachelor's degree. That all four of you managed to do it in exactly four years makes your Mom and me especially proud. It is testament to your focus and your hard work (and our declaration that we wouldn't pay for extra semesters).

You "walked" in a graduation ceremony. You moved into an apartment. You secured a challenging job (applause). And now you have the rest of your life before you.

Unlike your sister, who received her Dad's sage advice as she started college, you get yours as you finish college. Here are five thoughts. They might be too little too late, but at least now you can't say I didn't tell you. I have it on the record.

* In virtually any situation, things are rarely as good or as bad as they seem at the time.

* You have spent years in the rarefied environment of academia. Your job continues that. In the "real world," you will encounter many people without that level of education and acumen (such as newspaper editors). Watch out for us. And be patient with us.

* The point above notwithstanding, know that otherwise intelligent people make bad decisions, too.

* Few who don't buy insurance wind up happy about it.

* Save your money and, despite recent history, invest it. You have plenty of time to recover from downturns. Rainy days do come. And so do children, who will need a good education -- and perhaps a little fatherly advice now and then.

Love, Dad

Memorize this: 978-0-7864-4148-8

What do have in common with 978-0-7864-4148-8?

Well, 978-0-7864-4148-8 is the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for my biography of the late Chicago White Sox star Ray Schalk.

Assignment of the ISBN represents another step in the process of the publishing of the book, which is tentatively scheduled for release in the late summer or early fall.

I'll take any signs of progress that I can get!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

He did it!

This weekend was special for our family. The youngest of our four children, Greg, earned his bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from St. Louis University.

He earned magna cum laude status, and he and his project partner won the Senior Design Award for BME majors.

Madame X and I just returned from STL this evening. More on the blog later.

But needless to say, we are quite proud of Greg. He completed the family record of four bachelor's degrees in the requisite four years. And he officially made his parents "empty nesters," as he begins a job in a Washington University lab in the next couple of weeks.

Congratulations, Greg!