Saturday, February 28, 2009

That old-time feeling

I always have to chuckle a little bit when reasonably young people talk about how old they feel. But I guess I had one of those moments this week when I saw this photo gallery from the Kansas City Star. It shows former Royals ace Bret Saberhagen visiting Royals spring training camp this week.

Saberhagen was my favorite player growing up. He was spectacular during his time with the Royals, winning two Cy Young awards, including one as the 21-year-old ace and World Series MVP of the 1985 Royals. He also went on to have a great year with the Mets in 1994 (a strike-shortened year, but Sabes was on pace to set a record for strikeout-to-walk ratio) and a good season with the Red Sox in 1998.

Well, he’s not that 21-year-old ace anymore. He’s got the receding hairline, the wrinkles, the graying hair… well, he looks every bit of his 45 years.

I guess it happens to us all.

But age of course, isn't the end of the world for ballplayers. Oil Can Boyd is trying to make a comeback. Jamie Moyer is still an effective pitcher, and he's a year older than Saberhagen. Barry Bonds and the clear and the cream won an MVP award when Bonds was in his 40s.

A few years back I saw George Brett take a few swings at a charity baseball game. It was awesome - he's still got the swing, and the fire in his eyes. I'm convinced George Brett could put on a uniform today and hit .270 with 15 home runs.

Saberhagen's problem was always staying healthy. But if he could keep himself off the DL, I'll bet he'd be a 12-game winner or at least an effective middle reliever right now. (As great as he was starting, it would be kinda fun to see him come back as a closer, no?)

--Matt Kelsey

Friday, February 27, 2009

'Funny People'

Here's an upcoming movie I'm excited about:

That's gonna be great.

--Matt Kelsey

Searching for 'The Southpaw'

Not to change the subject from the great journalism topic we’ve had going on here the last couple days, but… well, here we go.

I really wanted to read Mark Harris’ “The Southpaw” next in my baseball novel series. The book is the basis of this very blog, for it introduces the character of Henry Wiggen to the world.

But I’m running into roadblocks. After lots of searching, I haven’t been able to find the book.

My search started at Half Price Books in Westport. No luck. Then I checked the Olathe branch of Half Price Books. Nothing. I even did something drastic, almost unheard of in today’s world: I walked into my local public library. They didn’t have a copy, nor did any of the library’s other branches. (It wasn’t a completely fruitless trip, though; I picked up books by Charles Portis and Cormac McCarthy I’d been meaning to read, and I got on the waiting list for the “Watchmen” graphic novel, so I can nerd up before the movie comes out next month.)

I even checked a few other local booksellers. Still nothing.

So I might have to exercise the Amazon option.

In the meantime, I’ve started to read “The Celebrant,” by Eric Rolfe Greenberg. It was between that, “The Natural” or “The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop.” All of them are great books. But last night I was looking at my bookshelf and I noticed this blurb on the front of “The Celebrant”:

“Simply the best baseball novel ever written.”

That quote was given by W.P. Kinsella, author of “Shoeless Joe,” the book I just finished. That was the only sign I needed.

(By the way, W.P., we all appreciate your honesty, but you really kinda shot yourself in the foot there.)

--Matt Kelsey

Microwave Barbeque

We're moving fast here on this blog. You'll have to hustle to keep up.

This blogging business has yielded some insightful comments. Here are two from the Sorry State of Journalism rant to enrich the discussion. Both are from folks working in the field with significant experience. We’d love to hear from anyone else with a perspective on the state of modern journalism. RIP Rocky Mountain News.


From the comments section:

This will be an interesting discussion, but I doubt it will spark a revolution. Aside from their tone being all wrong, the students’ argument doesn’t hold up. If you want to learn how to play electric guitar, do you really need to know how the amplifier or speakers work? No, not necessarily. The virtuosos do because they are consumed with the instrument and they’ve mastered playing the instrument … so they move on to the equipment in hopes of discovering new sounds (and they never quit practicing). In the journalism realm, it would seem that being a solid reporter and writer should come before you begin to concern yourself with the medium in which your work appears. Yes, the techniques in writing for print and the web are different, but the fundamentals in the writing practice – and the similarities between the two mediums – is what they’ll need to rely on to carry them through the profession. Today’s students want a different instrument. They want to play lead on the electric guitar, but instead they feel they are being asked to strum an acoustic. The professors on this call need to show them that an acoustic guitar can brilliant it doesn’t even need to be plugged in.
-- Kevin Kuzma

I am as much a believer in modern journalistic technology as anyone. In the real world, if you strive to reach an audience that matters, you have to. However, tweeting without first learning the fine craft of writing and wanting to call it "journalism," or for that matter shooting a state of the art digital camera without first learning the shear panic of rolling film in the like serving your summer guests microwave barbeque. I will pass, and I definitely will not HIRE anyone who cannot write their way out of a paper bag, real or virtual. Maybe some folks are hiring tweeters for that seemingly hollow skill set, but it seems to be a task that us old fogies who CAN WRITE are picking up with amazing acuity in less than a week or two. Listen kids, don't give me that crappy, plastic tub barbeque. Spend some time with real chunk charcoal and a Weber kettle and then give me a call, or heck, shoot me a tweet. I am wired.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

When a newspaper dies...

In the early 1970s I was covering small towns in Nebraska. I was interviewing for a story on Bud's Rabbit and Worm Ranch. (More on that another day) I was standing in the middle of a dusty, uninhabited Main Street talking to the mayor or the postmaster, I can't remember. I do remember what he said that afternoon as we talked about the demise of his town:

"When the newspaper dies, the town begins to die."


RIP: The Rocky Mountain News

More sad news for newspaper fans today: The Rocky Mountain News is closing its doors. Their last edition will be published tomorrow (Friday).

I can definitely sympathize with the staff. I went through something very similar earlier this year, and I can attest to how difficult and traumatic it is. But I got a couple weeks to process they layoff and “get my affairs in order,” so to speak. The Rocky Mountain News staff was informed of the decision TODAY - and their last edition will come out TOMORROW.

Wow. That’s heartless.

Denver still has a daily paper in the Denver Post. It’ll be interesting when major dailies start closing in cities with only one major daily.

Could that first city be Kansas City? Some people think so. I hope not. For all its flaws, I like the Kansas City Star, and I don’t want to see it go anywhere.

--Matt Kelsey

Join the Resistance!

“This is my favorite place in the whole world… Once the land touches you, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for the land like it was your child.” - Moonlight Graham

It's been a while since I reread Shoeless Joe, so I'm a bit rusty. But the quote Matt offered in his insightful review reminded me of one of the key elements of the novel not carried over to the film. Why was this baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield so important? Because it stood in the way of a huge corporate farm, all the other pieces having been acquired. Kinsella tells us that when the farm is complete, it will be tilled by remote controlled tractors. (The writer Kinsella is mixing a little negative utopia into his magic realism.)

So, it's important to see the novel in the historical context of the late 1960s. This is particularly important today when we see what corporate greed has wrought in America and what corporate and individual greed has wrought in American baseball -- think A-Rod, the Yankess, baseball's inept and greedy ownership, and all the other hangers-on who have worked so hard to destroy the purity of the game.

(I'm trying to think of a baseball novel in which greed is not a theme... I can't.)

This novel, ultimately, seems to me to be about one man (and a strong woman) standing up against the Man, the machine, the corporation, the forces of greed and -- dare I say -- the forced march of "progress" that seek daily to steal the purity of a clear Iowa night when the stars pour out like milk across the sky.

--Lofflin, just shoveling content again on a rainy Thursday morning

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book review: "Shoeless Joe"

“Shoeless Joe” may be the perfect Spring Training read; if W.P. Kinsella’s novel won’t get you excited about baseball, absolutely nothing ever will.

I finished reading “Shoeless Joe” yesterday, the first time I’ve read it since it was assigned when I took Lofflin’s baseball fiction class over six years ago.

In an earlier post, I wrote that it’s important to forget about the movie “Field of Dreams” when you’re reading “Shoeless Joe.” And you should - but if the movie is ingrained in your psyche, like it is for me and for many red-blooded Americans, you’ll find un-ignorable echoes of the movie throughout the novel.

“Shoeless Joe” the novel is the story of an Iowa corn farmer named Ray Kinsella who hears the voice of a baseball announcer proclaiming the seven words that have now become a pop culture cliché: “If you build it, he will come.” He instantly sees a vision what the voice had in mind, and knows he must build a baseball diamond in his cornfield so Shoeless Joe Jackson could come back and play ball. He lays out a simplistic version of a diamond in the cleared section of field, paying special attention to left field, where the long-deceased slugger disgraced by the Black Sox scandal of 1919 used to play. After left field is completed, Jackson appears - and Kinsella’s humble field magically turns in to a full-size, ghostly baseball stadium.

But the voice isn’t done with Ray yet; he gets sent to New Hampshire to track down reclusive author J.D. Salinger, and the two of them head to Minnesota to inquire about a deceased doctor named Archie “Moonlight” Graham who played one inning of major league ball. Ray’s twin brother also makes an appearance, plus there’s a plot line with an elderly man who claims to be the oldest living Chicago Cubs player, and Ray’s evil brother-in-law trying to buy the Kinsella plot in order to build a computer-controlled mega-farm.

Although I enjoyed the book for numerous reasons, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. I didn’t really remember this from when I read it originally, but “Shoeless Joe” is not very well written. In places, it seems like Kinsella struggled to form good sentences; at times, the tense is confusing; and the author relies too heavily on metaphor and simile (seems like there’s at least a couple on every page). And I’ve always been fascinated by the amount of ego it must take for an author to give the main character his own last name. (I'm simplifying too much here - characters named Kinsella were actually used in two stories written by J.D. Salinger, and it makes sense in the plotline to have character names used in Salinger's writing. But still...)

But the bottom line is this: “Shoeless Joe” spawned a classic baseball movie, maybe the best ever. And “Shoeless Joe” and “Field of Dreams” share some of the most iconic lines ever written about baseball - and about life. I’ll end this too-long post with a few of those lines, which dripped from Kinsella’s pen:

“This must be heaven.” - Shoeless Joe Jackson

“No, it’s Iowa.” - Ray Kinsella

“This is my favorite place in the whole world… Once the land touches you, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for the land like it was your child.” - Moonlight Graham

“I’d have liked the chance to stare down a pitcher. Stare him down, and then wink just as he goes into the wind-up; make him wonder if I know something he doesn’t… Yes, that’s what I wish for, Ray Kinsella: the chance to squint my eyes when the sky is so blue it hurts to look at it…” - Moonlight Graham

“…The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been erased like a blackboard, only to be rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time…” - J.D. Salinger in the book, Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in the movie

--Matt Kelsey

Saturday, February 21, 2009

We're making waves on the Internet

A big thank-you to John Lansberg, who runs the popular local journalism Web site, Bottom Line Communications. He did a nice writeup about the Henry Wiggen Blog recently on his site. So if you’re visiting here from Bottom Line, have a look around and let us know what you think.

If you’re looking for Kansas City-area journalism news, scoops and rumors, is the best source.

We’ve also been mentioned on this blog and on this blog in recent weeks.

--Matt Kelsey

Friday, February 20, 2009

Spring training brings out the best in the Star

I particularly enjoyed Part 2 of Lofflin’s treatise on the state of journalism and journalist training these days, and I‘m hopeful it will become a long-running series on this blog.

Having worked at newspapers of all sizes (from a 250,000-circulation daily to a 750-circulation weekly), I’ve seen firsthand what’s broken about the newspaper industry. But I’ve also seen what’s still good about journalism.

Today, I’d like to talk about something positive concerning our local daily newspaper, The Kansas City Star.

Spring training started this week (Thank God - I needed something to look forward to), and for a Royals fan, this is when the Star is at its best. Every day for the next six weeks, the Star’s sports section is going to have a front-page story about the Royals, as well as almost a full page of Royals news inside each issue. I’ll read every word of it.

A former colleague of mine wrote on his blog recently that he thought spring training was “awful.” Call me old-fashioned, but I LOVE spring training. For a true fan of a bad team, it’s often the only good time of the year. I can be hopeful that Zack Greinke and Gil Meche will lead the Royals’ rotation, and that Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister and Horacio Ramirez can be serviceable back-of-the-rotation guys. I can be hopeful that new acquisitions like Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs will be worth it and can help return this franchise to glory. I can be hopeful that the young guys like Gordon and Butler will bounce back, and last season’s standouts, Mike Aviles and Joakim Soria, will continue to kick butt.

Ask me how I’m feeling about the Royals in May, and there’s a good chance I’ll have a different level of optimism.

But now, I can hope. Even if those hopes are quickly dashed once the season starts, that good feeling is mine right now. How can you not love spring training?

The Star’s coverage helps me enjoy it even more.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, February 19, 2009


An excellent reason to choose your boyfriend as carefully as you choose your hairdresser. Your hairdresser may save your life.

Sorry state -- part two

Here's another side of the story about the sorry state of newspapers and journalism today. We had some excellent comments to the initial rant about why newspapers are to blame. This is a different take. I'll probably not have friends on either side of the issue before this is over.

I read a list-serve e-mail last night late (mistake) from a person in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications about a Twitter chat this weekend where students vow they will be – in their words – setting us straight about what we're doing wrong as teachers.

Now, I'm all for listening to students. In truth, listening is three-fourths of my job. I learn from students. Sometimes I show them how to run a piece of technology, sometimes they show me. In class, they often make discoveries that take whatever material we are working on to a new level. But the tone of this -- one phrase I recall was "teaches reporting as any old print/newspaper prof would typically teach it," from one of the blogs -- is disturbing.

Question: Why can things like Twitter be given adult names? Do you Twitter? No, not after I've had my morning coffee...

These are students somewhere in the blogosphere that I don't know and I don’t know the specific teachers they plan to "give it to." I do know some of the faculty involved in this on-going discussion are among the brightest and most innovative in the nation. And, it is obvious from the discussion that the students really are worried about being left behind. Much of what they argue is right on, but I don't think they realize many of the best (small) programs responded to the same concerns when these students were in junior high.

One thing the students seem to be mad about, however, is all this stupid emphasis on writing in the journalism curricula at their schools. My guess is this extends to many other fundamental "skills" they find hopelessly old fashioned. They need to know how to run the new tools instead, and we -- of course -- are behind the times.

"A group of students and some professionals have been meeting for Sunday night chats. One common theme seems to be the students' dissatisfaction with journalism curriculum, which they feel is dragging behind and hasn't incorporated enough digital media or business courses. There are also the questionable complaints about too much focus on writing. So, they're doing something about it. They're planning a chat for Sunday night and hoping to lure more profs to, as one of the organizers says, "set them straight". They really want to get some of the curmudgeons there."

So instead of sleeping last night I'm lying awake in bed composing this:

Do you know how to make images with a 1940s/1950s Speed Graphic 4x5 film camera? No? Well, if you know about f-stops and shutter speeds from using your $3,000 Nikon D3, and you know how to read a light meter, like the one in your Nikon D3, all I have to teach you is where the focus dial is, where the shutter speeds and f-stops are (you have to set them with your fingers, just as you do with the Nikon D3 in manual mode), and how to push a film holder into the back of the camera, remove the dark slide, push the shutter button (just like the Nikon D3) and push the dark slide back in before you turn the film holder over to make another image. That should take us 10 minutes, maybe 15 if you have dexterity issues.

What then, is between you and a great image with this 1940s technology?

The answer, in addition to talent, is this: Your ability to compose on the fly, your understanding of how light falls on subjects, your sense of what a photographic image is and how it conveys thought and emotion, your ability socially to get close and bring out the best in your subject, your ability to improvise, your ability to strategize (think) before you make the image, your will to get the image, the breadth of your familiarity with great photographic images of the past plus the art you've seen and inculcated into your intuition, your awareness of news and what news demands, and, oh yes... your heart and soul.

Why is it more difficult to learn the new tools than it was for us old profs to learn the old tools once upon a time, and why is learning either more important than learning the skills of the profession and learning to think through the problems that make the difference between good and great in the profession? What makes these tools special? If you're bright, you should be able to read the directions on the box the new tools came in and master the buttons in a few hours of study. Then your development as a journalist, artist and thinker, are all that stands between you and great work. I say “all” with tongue in cheek.

As a teacher, I'd be pleased if my only job for 16 weeks was to teach students how to file to the Web or to encourage them to figure out how to use Twitter for reporting. That would be a piece of cake. I'd still have 14 weeks to fill.

Teaching students to write gracefully? Now that is a puzzle most of us struggle long and hard to accomplish, both writers and teachers.

--Lofflin, curmudgeonly shoveling content

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When reading "Shoeless Joe," try to forget you've ever seen "Field of Dreams"

(I couldn’t find “The Southpaw” at the bookstore, so the first baseball book I’ll review for this blog is “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella.)

It’s funny how the mind works.

I’m a big reader - I almost always have a book in my hand or within arm’s reach. I’m not much for contemporary books, by which I mean novels written in the last 15 years. My favorites are classics like “East of Eden” and “All The King’s Men,” as well as 60’s pulp paperbacks like John D. MacDonald’s brilliant Travis McGee series (but that’s for another post.)

In the course of reading what I consider classic novels, I’ve run into a lot of books that were adapted into movies. Oftentimes, I’ve already seen the movie before I start reading the book.

When I’m in that situation, I have the ability to disassociate what I read from what I’ve seen on the screen. For instance: when I read “The Godfather,” one of my favorite novels, in my mind I don’t picture Al Pacino; I create a blank slate and let Mario Puzo’s words create Michael Corleone for me.

(My wife, who usually reads books that haven’t been made into movies, takes a different approach: she’ll play casting director and assign real-live actors to the characters in the books she reads. If she’s reading a dashing leading man, he’ll look like George Clooney in her mind; a precocious young girl becomes Dakota Fanning; a wizened old black man becomes Morgan Freeman.)

When you read a book like “Shoeless Joe,” it’s incredibly important to try and forget about the movie based on it, “Field of Dreams.” I’m not saying it’s a bad movie; it’s one of my all-time favorites, and in fact I watched it again just this week. But the movie is so, SO different from the book. Here’s the analogy I use: if “Shoeless Joe” was a painting, it’s almost as if the people involved with “Field of Dreams” discovered only a small corner of the painting and had to create a whole new picture to go with the original corner.

The differences can be seen in just the first few pages of “Shoeless Joe.” In the movie, main character Ray Kinsella builds a complete, beautiful baseball diamond in his cornfield. In the book, Ray Kinsella builds only a makeshift structure. Here’s a passage:

“I laid out a whole field, but it was there in spirit only. It was really only left field that concerned me. Home plate was made from pieces of cracked two-by-four embedded in the earth. The pitcher’s rubber rocked like a cradle when I stood on it. The bases were stray blocks of wood, unanchored. There was no backstop or grandstand, only one shaky bleacher beyond the left-field wall.”

But when Shoeless Joe Jackson finally appears out of the mist, Kinsella magically finds himself sitting inside a full baseball stadium:

“From where I sit the scene is as complete as in any of the major-league baseball parks I have ever visited: the two teams, the stands, the fans, the lights, the vendors, the scoreboard.”

Quite a bit different from the movie.

As I continue reading “Shoeless Joe,” I’ll make occasional posts about it. Let me know what you think.

--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


"He's not on an island, you know?" Teixeira said on Tuesday. "A lot of people think that this is going to tear the team apart. I think it's going to bring the team together. It's a family in here, and we're just going to be there for our friend." , Bryan Hoch

How stupid do they think their fans are? You're there for the World Series check, you chump. If the DEA knocked on your door, you'd flip on A-Rod in a heartbeat.

--Lofflin, laughing his butt off

Monday, February 16, 2009

Coming soon: Book reviews

The most enjoyable college class I ever took was Baseball Fiction, taught by one John Lofflin. In the class, we read some of America's classic baseball novels, including "The Natural," "The Celebrant," "The Universal Baseball Association" and others, including "A Ticket for a Seamstitch," whose main character is the inspiration for this blog.

Hard to believe it's been a half-dozen years since I took that class. So it's high time that I head back to the baseball shelf on my bookcase and dust off those classic baseball novels. As I read them, I'll post notes and a short review on this here blog.

I'm in the middle of a non-baseball novel right now ("The Choirboys," a gritty crime novel by Joseph Wambaugh - it's great so far, and I'd highly recommend it), but once I'm done with it I'll start in on a baseball novel.

I'd like to start out with "The Southpaw" by Mark Harris, since it's the first Henry Wiggen book, but for some reason I can't find it on my bookshelf. I'll have to pick up another copy next time I'm at Half Price Books. If I can't get my hands on a copy, maybe I'll start with "Shoeless Joe" by W.P. Kinsella.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on each of the books, or tack on some suggestions to my baseball reading list. Lofflin, your comments are also welcome, since you literally taught the class on these great novels. And, it'd be a lot of fun to get Author's perspective...

--Matt Kelsey

The sorry state of newspapers

Why are newspapers failing?

Sit back and relax. This will be brief. More to explore later when the urge strikes.

Newspapers are not failing because of the Web. They’re failing because they’re tired.

Tired ideas.

Tired writing.

Tired photography.

Tired design.

“Daddy, you are one sorry sonofabitch,” says Robert Duvall in The Apostle.

Well, the newspaper industry has grown sorry. Fat and sorry. Too many reporters getting too many stories through the telephone. Too many reporters writing twice a week. Too little freedom of expression. Too cozy with local pols. Too arrogant to listen to the readers and their own hearts.

Too damned stuck in tired textbook models – six kinds of ledes, three ways to organize the news story, eight words WE never use…

At the top of the blame list sat journalism educators spoon feeding the same tired rules, the same tired advice, the same tired narratives to students who were tired of journalism even before they graduated. It was, and is, the most vicious of circles.

What we needed, and need, to do as educators is stop training journalists and start teaching journalists. We’ve been training them to replicate all those tired ideas for jobs which are now rapidly disappearing. What is wrong with this picture?

We need to give them room to think, ideas to challenge and the energy of innovation.

It is probably too late to save newspapers, but it is not too late to save journalism.

-- Lofflin

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Frank in repose...

More fruits and vegetables?

Frank Martin goes ballistic for the 100th time

My God, it's basketball, not nuclear war.

Kansas City Star photo / Rich Sugg


Friday, February 13, 2009

Eerie similarities between Chiefs, Royals

Has anybody noticed the strange similarities between the recent management hiring process held by the Kansas City Chiefs and the same process held a few years ago by the Kansas City Royals?

Think about it:

In 2006, the Royals hired a young, first time general manager who was an assistant at a much more successful and winning franchise (Dayton Moore, hired from the Atlanta Braves).

This year, the Chiefs hired a young, first time general manager who was an assistant at a much more successful and winning franchise (Scott Pioli, hired from the New England Patriots).

In 2008, Moore hired a young, first-time manager with the initials “TH” (Trey Hillman).

In 2009, Pioli hired a young, first-time head coach with the initials “TH” (Todd Haley).

Hillman replaced a manager who was well-respected in baseball circles when he was hired, but was widely hated in the community when he left (Buddy Bell).

Haley replaced a head coach who was well-respected in football circles when he was hired, but was widely hated in the community when he left (Herm Edwards).

Dayton Moore has gained a reputation for bringing in players from his old organization to play for his current team (Tony Pena Jr., Kyle Davies, Branyan Pena, Ron Mahay, etc. from Atlanta).

There’s speculation that Scott Pioli will bring in players from his old organization to play for his current team (Matt Cassel, others from New England).

Dayton Moore has a secretary named Pioli; Scott Pioli has a secretary named Moore.

Okay, the last one’s fake, but I think the rest are pretty interesting, especially the “TH” thing.

Have you seen any other similarities? Post them in the comments!

--Matt Kelsey

600 is the new 500

Don't forget to share your opinion on my "What Would You Do?" question concerning the reporting of the A-Rod steroids controversy.

I‘m not re-inventing the wheel here, but the recent A-Rod talk has got me thinking: is there a new standard for a power hitter to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame?

We're entering a new era where several 500-home run hitters probably won't be getting into the Hall. It doesn't look good for Mark McGwire. Rafael Palmeiro doesn't have a chance. I don't think Jim Thome is a hall of famer. Same goes for Gary Sheffield, who currently has 499 career longballs, and Carlos Delgado, who has 469, believe it or not. I'm not sure about guys like Manny Ramirez and Frank Thomas, who have over 500.

Maybe the new standard is 600. A-Rod is gonna get to 600 easily. Manny is gonna get there (if he ever accepts a contract offer). Ken Griffey, Jr., is there already. Barry Bonds, of course, has 762.

But even with the standard at 600, there's a gray area. Sammy Sosa has 609 career home runs. Is he a hall of famer? I don’t know. Probably not.

The point is, 500 home runs alone doesn't make you a lock for the Hall anymore. Hell, 600 might not either.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Baseball is us, ain't it?

Good question, Matt. How to fix major league baseball. Hmmmm…. I’m interested in what the readers will have to say. Until they weigh in, allow a stab at it from this keyboard…

Start by fixing little league baseball. Two observations here – Old men who want to take a little batting practice (ok, a lot of batting practice) in mid-July have absolutely no competition for any field in town. They never, absolutely never, run into a gang of kids playing scrub or Indian ball or even just playing catch. Once in a while a father coaches his son on one of the available fields. It is sad to see – or not to see. Empty ballfields are everywhere.

The only real competition for fields is Big League Little League.

Big League Little League looks like a lot of work and not much fun. Every teaching tool in the Baseball Express catalogue is employed on the field. Harried kids run from station to station imitating Tom Emanski’s rotational swing. The stakes look pretty high.

As kids, the old men played from breakfast to dinner with no supervision. They got fifty at-bats a day, played thirty innings, peered over shoulders at Playboy centerfolds, drank a lot of Nehi Orange, shouted dibs on which major leaguer they wanted to be that day, and fell head over heels in love with the game, and a Playboy bunny or two.

Some of the college players I meet today are already burned out.

So, start with Big League Little League.

The problem is that baseball has always reflected what was happening in America at the time. Today it reflects a brand of joyless ruthlessness, aggressive acquisitiveness, and nearly complete disdain for either the rules or the idea of fairness. Now, that’s an unhappy mouthful, but it rings true. These are precisely the elements of our current flirtation with economic disaster.

The distinction here is between a person willing to risk drugs just to be able to play the game and a person who was already probably the best athlete the game had ever seen who just wanted, apparently, to actually be worth $245 million -- or more, later -- and by any means necessary. It was clearly about money, greed, and fame. It wasn't about the game. That's where we're at in America and that's where we've been in baseball.

Maybe we can lure my buddy Walk22 to unload on this. Or some of the other deep thinkers we know.

And, maybe Henry will chime in on this later. It would be interesting to get his perspective. The literature of baseball also provides a mirror on American life. Much of the literature pits greed against the game. This theme is not new.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How do we fix Major League Baseball?

Before I begin, don't forget to chime in with your opinion on the post "What would you do?" below. If you were a reporter, would you have run the A-Rod steroids story?

Baseball is in a jam now almost as bad as a few years ago, when the steroid issue first took the country by storm. Maybe now is a good time to re-examine Major League Baseball's (toothless) policy.

In my opinion, MLB has two best options on how to handle steroids:

1. EVERYTHING IS LEGAL. Under this policy, all drug testing would be abolished; if a player wanted to juice up, they could. I believe steroids hurt more than they help (players get a short-term boost at the cost of perhaps a few years or even a decade of steady production, and, of course, drugs can kill you). This policy also acknowledges what nobody seems to want to admit: steroid-fueled baseball puts fans in the stands. Basically, option 1 would be a more open an honest version of the steroids policy in Major League Baseball 10 years ago.

2. EVERYTHING IS ILLEGAL. Under this policy, all players would be tested on a weekly basis. If a player tests positive one time, he is suspended for a full season. If a player tests positive a second time, he is suspended from baseball for life.

The current option, with random testing and a increasing penalties for failed tests, falls somewhere in between. And it's simply not working.

--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What would you do?

Hey Lofflin - Here's a great question for your next journalism ethics class:

If you got a tip that Alex Rodriguez was one of the 104 players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, would you publish it?

Let's say you can verify the tip with other sources, but Rodriguez himself denies it.

Is it fair to Rodriguez to publish his name even when none of the other 103 players are known? Is fairness even an issue here since A-Rod is a public figure?

I'd love to hear anyone's comments on this issue, particularly budding journalists.

--Matt Kelsey

The obligatory A-Rod post

All the other blogs are doin' it, so here's my take on the A-Rod situation.
As you know, A-Rod was one of 104 players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. The test was supposed to be anonymous to tell Major League Baseball how big of a problem they had, but a Sports Illustrated reporter discovered A-Rod was on the list recently.

The Yankees star admitted to juicing, but said he was only using during his Texas Rangers years, from 2001-2003.

A-Rod said he took 'roids because he felt the pressure of a $252 million contract. But here's my take: he received the contract because he was the best young player in baseball. All he had to do was keep on keepin' on. Since steroids have been proven to actually create more injuries than it prevents, it seems like that was a bad idea.

Kansas City sports legend George Brett spoke out on the matter.

Now the big question is, will the rest of the list be released? Since you can't put the genie back in the bottle, it would only be fair to baseball fans to see the whole list. I'd sure like to know which Royals players tested positive in '03.

Tejada faces charges
We already knew Miguel Tejada was an accused steroid user; he's named in the Mitchell Report. But he faces charges, and is expected to plead guilty, for lying to Congress about it.

It seems to me that politicians can only make baseball worse.

--Matt Kelsey

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Aqua Clara here we come

If this is your ballclub for the season, Mr. Kelsey, I feel sorry for you. Even the Perkinsville Scarlets have got a better chance at the series than this outfit. Actually, I feel sorry for any ballclub that don't have such as Sad Sam Yale, or Sid Goldman, or Ugly, or Canada suiting up. Even a club without Bruce Pearson is not a good 1 because Bruce is the sort of ballplayer who is not a punk and can cheer up a locker room even if he don't mean to and can't buy a hit.

You would have a better bunch of boys even if your 3rd string catcher is Piney Woods especially when his thinking is on baseball and not motorcycles or women, which is not that often but when it is he can be a big help. And you, Mr. Kelsey, would have to be a great manager, a manager made in heaven, to be better than the braintrust of Dutch, Egg and Joe.

If I was you, I'd ask for a new draw. This baseball fantasy game sounds a lot like Tegwar to me.

This was the time of year when I always begun thinking about baseball and not shoveling snow or another log on the fire. I had daughters and a wife so that made a difference. My flipper always got itchy to be with the boys down in Aqua Clara drilling for the new season right about now.

-- Henry W. Wiggen

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pure fantasy

I’ve only participated in a fantasy baseball league one other time, about six or seven years ago. I enjoyed it, but it was pretty time-consuming.

Now, though, time is something I have in spades, so I headed back to the draft board and joined a fantasy league this year. The league’s draft was held today, and I’m reasonably happy with my team.

The league I joined is American League players only. I had the second overall pick out of the league‘s 10 teams, but fantasy baseball leagues do things a little differently to ensure fairness: the team that picks first in the first round picks last in the second round, then back to first in the third round. So basically, I had the No. 2 overall pick, but then I picked ninth in the second round - or the 19th overall pick - followed closely by the 22nd pick in round 3.

Here’s a look at my team, in the order I drafted them:

Grady Sizemore, OF
Alex Rodriguez was the No. 1 pick overall. I passed up players like Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia to pick Sizemore, who I’m hoping will just stay consistent this season.

Vladimir Guerrero, OF
Guerrero had a bit of a slump year in ‘08, but he’s still Vlad. I didn’t mind taking him as the No. 19 overall pick.

Brian Roberts, 2B
Not a very flashy pick, but he’s one of the best middle infielders in the American League.

Carlos Pena, 1B
Hopefully he won’t get hurt.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP
I figured I better get a pitcher by Round 5, and Dice-K was the best on the board.

Orlando Cabrera, SS
It is what it is.

Chien-Ming Wang, SP
I got the two best Japanese pitchers in the draft.

David Price, SP
He’s extremely young, but he showed flashes of brilliance late last season. I’m hoping for a breakthrough year.

John Danks, SP
Okay, I can’t take credit for this one - I hit the wrong button and the system picked Danks for me automatically.

Carlos Gomez, OF
For a third outfielder, I’m happy with Gomez.

Carlos Guillen, 3B
He’s an injury risk, but I needed him to fill out my infield.

David Murphy, RF
He’ll probably be my DH.

Gil Meche, SP
I’m glad the Royals pitcher was still available in the 13th round.

Dioner Navarro, C
He’ll be my starting catcher.

Brian Fuentes, RP
Helps fill out my bullpen.

Alexi Casilla, 2B; Jose A. Bautista, 3B; Melky Cabrera, OF
Three straight bench picks, but I’m hoping at least one of them will have a breakout year.

George Sherrill, RP
More bullpen help.

Kyle Davies, SP
He seems to have established himself as a solid starting pitcher last season.

Cesar Izturis, SS
One last bench selection.

The skill portion of the league is pretty much over. Now, it’s mostly about luck. And a lot of fun.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"KKK" Robe, Light Skin Help Foil A-Bomb Heat

This is a sorry Black History Month moment. It's a little something I ran into doing research on mastitis. (Don't ask.) It's a story about a sorry German scientist and the sorry state of affairs in this country in the early 1950s. It is not supposed to be a story about race nor a story about sorry science. It is, believe it or not, a serious story in a serious scientific publication. You probably won't believe that so here is the full citation: The Science News-Letter, Vol. 60, No. 15 (Oct. 13, 1951), p. 231.

Here is the title of the article: "KKK" Robe, Light Skin Help Foil A-Bomb Heat.

The article begins with a news-you-can-use lede: "A LIGHT skin and a Ku-Klux-Klan:like robe will be a help in case an atomic bomb falls."

Whoa! That should get your attention. Here's the skinny: Dr. Konrad J. K. Buettner, a German scientist then working in post-war America, set out to study the effects of an atom bomb on people. He utilized -- I am not kidding -- cuts of pork from black and white pigs. He subjected them to heat from a powerful sun reflector. His conclusion: Black skin only reflects 10 percent of the heat while white skin reflects 40 percent.

If you think for just a moment about the way the atomic bombs we rained down on Japan melted buildings, those percentages are ridiculous.

But the sorriest part of his study is his solution. The best way to survive a nuclear blast, Dr. Buettner said, is to wear a suit shaped like a Klansman's robe covered with aluminum foil. Of course you won't believe that either, so here are the exact words:

"The answer, according to Dr. Buettner, is not to expose the skin. He has found that a hooded suit resembling a Klansman's robe and covered with aluminum foil is the best available shield against intense heat. The scientist wants civil defense authorities to develop such a garment on a glass-fabric base for use by civilians."

Try as you might, you can't summon even a chuckle for this. You don't have to be a nuclear scientists to figure out what was in the writer's mind, nor the good doctors'. I wish this was funny, but, you know, it isn't. It's just plain sorry.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Still fearful & loathsome after 38 years

I'm ashamed to say as a journalist that I had never read "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Hunter S. Thompson's 'Gonzo Journalism' novel, until recently.

Thompson wrote the semi-autobiographical novel - about a drug-fueled, fast paced trip to Vegas - nearly 40 years ago. But as far as I can tell, the book is just as culturally relevant today as it was in the Acid Age.

And as a work of New Journalism, "Fear and Loathing" may be even more important today.

Lofflin and I have seen first-hand the dramatic changes taking place in journalism, especially in the age of Internet-first publication. But I think Lofflin would agree that one thing missing from digital journalism is many reporters just don't know how to tell a good story anymore.

Thompson may have had a spotty relationship with the truth, but he sure as hell knew how to spin an entertaining tale.

Although it's different in numerous ways, Thompson's book hails from the same New Journalism era that spawned "Blue Highways," by William Least Heat-Moon - a book Lofflin and I hold close to our hearts. (I'm sure Lofflin and I will both blog about Least Heat-Moon in the future.)

A more contemporary example of the genre can be found in James McManus' "Positively Fifth Street." McManus' non-fiction poker book was clearly influenced by Thompson; in "Fear and Loathing," Thompson's character (aka Raoul Duke) is dispatched to Vegas to write about a motorcycle race, but he blows his advance money on a carload of drugs. McManus is sent to Vegas to cover a murder trial, and he uses his advance money to enter the World Series of Poker. "Positively Fifth Street" is a good read.

The thing I'll take away from "Fear and Loathing" is Thompson's use of humor. Some writers are naturally funny; others, myself included, have to work really hard at delivering humor in written form. Thompson finds humor in playing it straight during bizarre situations.

That's what good comedy is all about.

And that's what good journalism is about, too.

For a shorter, but still brilliant example of Hunter S. Thompson's Gonzo Journalism, check out this story he wrote in 1970 about the Kentucky Derby.

--Matt Kelsey

"One toke over the line..."

Caught a snippet of a local sports talk show this morning only because I couldn't hit the XM button fast enough. Two hosts were rattling on about Michael Phelps and the photograph of the great swimmer smoking grass.

This is "three strikes" one said. The other, gravity weighing down his words, chimed in with something about how this might not prevent him from buying a wrist watch Phelps endorses, but "it would be close."

Question: How do they interview folks for these talk radio positions? Do they sit them down in a chair and ask them to say the dumbest thing that comes to mind?

It sure isn't on the quality of their radio voices. Apparently critical thinking skills don't enter the picture. No interest is taken in reporting skills. Vocabulary isn't a criterion.

The first caller after this duet rant is a guy worried because his 15-year-old daughter is a Phelps fan. Phelps is a role model for her, he says. Whoa! This guy needs to check his own medicine cabinet because his behavior and his wife's behavior will be, without a doubt, the most important role models that kid has. And, if he thinks she won't encounter plenty of weed smoking role models among her classmates, well, he must be living in a bubble, the 1800s, or South Overland Park.

Gene Krupa's career in music was ruined by a marijuana bust. He was one of the hottest drummers of his time; just listen to him swing on Sing, Sing, Sing. (This will put a smile on your face -- maybe the greatest drum solo in jazz, particularly the Carnegie Hall performance...) But in 1943, one toke was more or less a career ender. Today... I'm sure Phelps and his people are already working on his public rehab.

OK, here's one more thing Krupa could do with a match. Enjoy.

--Lofflin, feeling cranky

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday mornings

Yesterday, John wrote a great post about Allen Fieldhouse, a place he'd never been before for a basketball game, but a place that carved a special place in his heart after just one visit.

Today I want to write about a special place in my heart that I only discovered over the past year, since my wife and I bought our first house.

The special place and time is this: Sunday mornings at home with my wife.

Both of us have been fortunate enough to have jobs where we didn't have to work on Sundays. And since we've lived in this house, we both got in the habit of reading the Sunday morning paper. Now, we have our own casual ritual built around reading the paper and enjoying a fine, work-free morning.

We wake up without an alarm clock, usually around 8 or 9 a.m. I go out and get the paper out of the driveway and take it back to bed. We take breakfast with us - sometimes just toast and coffee, other times pancakes and bacon. Whatever we're in the mood for.

Then we sit up in bed and read the paper. I read the news and sports sections; Jamie's favorite part is the engagements and weddings. She's also a coupon clipper, and pours over the inserts.

We make a morning of it, usually a couple hours. Sometimes we'll take a late-morning nap; sometimes we'll turn on the television in the background; sometimes when we finish the paper - if we want to have just a little bit more time to relax - we'll each grab a book and keep on reading.

Eventually, we roll out of bed and discover the rest of our day. Usually it includes a movie - either in the theater or a rental - and maybe, depending how recently we've received a paycheck, dinner out.

It's my favorite day of the week.

Jamie and I probably won't live in this old house forever; in fact, we may not be here very much longer. But I hope that no matter where we go, we take Sunday mornings with us.

--Matt Kelsey