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!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Review: The Spitball-Knuckleball Book

In his first two non-fiction books, historian Tom E. Mahl wrote about espionage. His third dealt with covert operations of a different sort - baseball's "trick pitches."

"The Spitball/Knuckleball Book: How They are Thrown, Those Who Threw Them" (Elyria, Ohio: Trick Pitch Press) has the shape and typography of a coffee-table book. However, it is jammed with so much information it qualifies as a serious history of the men who threw the spitball, knuckleball and its many variants - and shows how they did it.

Mahl, who earned a doctorate in diplomatic history from Kent State and teaches at Lorain County (Ohio) Community College, presents dozens of mini-biographies of trick-pitch practitioners, including Red Faber, about whom this author wrote a full biography.

Faber was one of 17 major leaguers grandfathered into the 1920 rule otherwise banning the spitter and trick pitches (such as the emery ball, grease ball and the like). When Faber retired after the 1933 season, he the last American League regular to legally throw the spitball in the majors.

Mahl hit a couple of bumps in the Faber chapter, falling prey to an error first published in the 1930s regarding Red's middle name (it is Clarence) and stating that the White Sox star had three 20-win seasons (he had four, not three). Still, those bobbles hardly detract from a nicely paced, compelling volume.

An interesting feature of the book is that it goes beyond who threw trick pitches, but shows how they threw them. Several pages of illustrations and diagrams show the techniques pitchers used to cause the ball to flutter and dive away from frustrated batters' furious swings.

Readers who love baseball history, with a particular interest in pitching, will enjoy Mahl's book.

Scheduling of free movie sparks memory

At the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce's Toot Your Own Horn event Thursday night, I saw the gang from Carnegie-Stout Public Library.

Mike May let me know that the library has scheduled another free screening of an old film classic.

This time it's Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times," a 1936 comedy (of course) that the Library of Congress listed as "culturally significant."

The showing is 2 p.m. Sunday, June 7, at the Grand Opera House.

I remember my one and only viewing of that movie. It was in June 1972, when I was on a campus visit for the University of Missouri track team. I had several hours of free time and decided to take in a movie. "Modern Times" was a great way to pass the time then, and I hope to see the movie again next month.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Savvy shopper

Who did Madame X and I happen to see at the opening day of Dubuque's Farmers Market (outdoor version)? None other than granddaughter Claire.

She brought along her parents and 7-day-old sister, Lise.