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.