Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hank Williams never did die

Thinking about the title of the Broadway play: "Joe Turner Come and Gone," these are notes for a novel called "Hank Williams never died." Don't ask. I have no idea where this leads...

He's alive, ole Hank, every time somebody asks forgiveness for something he knows he's gonna do again.

He's alive every time somebody who doesn't believe in god says a prayer in a pinch.

He's alive every time somebody sits in a waiting room tapping his foot to a song he can't hear.

He's alive every time a train blows through a small town past the grain elevator.

He's alive every time somebody settles into the front seat of an old Caddy, whether it runs or not.

He's alive every time somebody says to somebody, 'You don't look like you're eatin' right.'

He's alive every time somebody looks at a bottle of pills and says, 'I know this is gonna be the death of me...'

He's alive every time anybody says, 'This is gonna be the death of me' no matter what it is he's thinking about.

He's alive any time anybody notices his hand shaking more than it used to.

He's alive every time anybody puts a Rev. Robert Wilkins record on a record player and lowers the needle.

He's alive any time you're so damned glad to feel the heat of the sun on your back.

He's alive every time you pull your ball cap down over your eyes because you don't want people to see what's on your mind.

He's alive every time a writer searches for words to describe something he's not sure he wants other people to know about.

He's alive every time a singer makes you nod your head, 'Yes.'

He's alive any time you check for the mail three times a day but hope nothing's in the box.

He's alive every time you tremble when you open the letter.

He's alive when the phone rings and you think it's alive and up to no good.

He's alive every time a man hurries home but worries about what he'll find when he gets there.

He's alive every time a man or a woman goes out at night searching for somebody who should be at home eating supper.

He's alive every time somebody finally figures out proof-positive what's been going on.

He's alive every time a blue sky makes you wish for clouds and rain.

He's alive every time you do your job even though you want to be anyplace else in the world.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good omens; Hank Williams Sr., tomorrow

Not hard to tell how compressed a teacher's world can be. This is the longest we've gone without a fresh post. At the close of a semester, life is kind of like a freight train that hits a wall and all the cars keep rolling into each other.

Grienke has given up a run and Billy Butler has hit his first homerun, this one to right center. Those are probably both good omens for the home team. Nothing is harder on a ballplayer or a team than a streak. Both wind up with a case of hemorrhoids. And now Billy Butler has a three run double. Please, just let the fat boy hit and don't try to turn him into a swan.

I have some new things to write. Sometimes you don't get a choice about what to write and stuff doesn't come to you in quite the right form at the right time. So, you have to break the rules ... or the pattern. Something's brewing in this noodle -- might as well share.

Expect something new and different tomorrow. Let me know what you think.


Monday, April 27, 2009

I wish baseball teams could trade draft picks

After watching this week's NFL Draft, I came back to a thought I've had for some time: Baseball teams, just like football and basketball teams, should be able to trade draft picks.

An writer examined the possibility a few years ago. But I think it deserves a serious look.

My only fear is this: football trades are only interesting for one week a year, the week leading up to the draft. The rest of the time, nobody cares. Fascinating baseball trades, on the other hand, can happen any time of the year (although there is usually a large cluster leading up to Spring Training and another around the trade deadline). My fear would be that baseball trades would get boring, too.

But I think baseball teams need that flexibility.

If baseball teams could trade picks, the Royals probably wouldn't have had to reassign promising catcher Brayan Pena to the minors (although I wrote over the weekend that they shouldn't have done that anyway).

Here's what I mean: the Royals probably didn't have, or wouldn't have had, much luck trying to trade Miguel Olivo or John Buck before the season started, because nobody really wanted to pick up their salaries and no team wanted to give up a player to acquire them.

But what if the Royals could have eaten half of John Buck's salary and traded him to, say, Pittsburgh, for the Pirates' third-round pick in the 2009 draft?

I think the Pirates, or any team needing a catcher, would have been eager to make that deal (basically, John Buck for half price), and the Royals would have been able to unload Buck and still get something in return.

I'm sure this will never happen, though, since you'd have to push something like that through the all-too powerful MLB Players Association. But it's nice to dream.

--Matt Kelsey

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Another Royals head-scratcher

Jose Guillen came off the disabled list today, and the Royals decided not to send down Mitch Maier, the outfielder who was called up to replace Guillen on the roster. I don't mind that so much; Maier is a good young player with a lot of potential, a former first-round pick, and my guess is he'll be a starter for somebody someday.

What bothers me is that they decided to send down Brayan Pena instead.

It seems like the right thing to do if you just give it a cursory glance; Pena was the team's third catcher, and nobody in the big leagues carries three catchers on their big-league rosters anymore.

But the Royals sent down the wrong Pena. Despite Lofflin's semi-kind words for him a month ago, the Royals should have sent down Tony Pena, Jr.

Brayan Pena, a promising young catcher with pop in his bat, is going to be picked up on waivers almost immediately (if he hasn't been already). Tony Pena, Jr., would have cleared waivers without any problem. Nobody wants him.

You might be saying, "They kept Tony Pena, Jr., because he's an important late-inning defensive replacement at shortstop and second base."

I understand that. But here's the thing:


And Bloomquist can play in the outfield. So can Brayan Pena. Tony Pena, Jr.? Not so much.

(Oh yeah- Brayan Pena can also play third base. And first base. And he's a switch hitter. None of those qualities apply to Tony Jr.)

And on top of that, defensive-minded middle infielders are a dime a dozen. If they somehow lost TPJ on waivers, he's easily replaceable. High-upside young catchers are not.

If I had been Royals GM this spring, I probably would have aggressively tried to trade either John Buck or Miguel Olivo to make Brayan Pena the full-time backup catcher. I may not have gotten much for Buck or Olivo, but I would have settled for a player to be named later, or maybe even just another team picking up the salary. Buck is off to a hot start, but you know exactly what's gonna happen: he's going to end the season with a .220 average and a handful of home runs. Olivo will do slightly better.

It's just painful to watch talent slip away. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe Brayan Pena will clear waivers. But I seriously doubt it.

--Matt Kelsey

Novel notes: "The Southpaw"

In my baseball book review series, I've finally come to the novel that gave birth to that important character in literature, and a character especially important to this blog: Henry Wiggen.

"The Southpaw" is the first of four books narrated by Wiggen, a pitcher for the New York Mammoths (a fairly obvious copy of the Yankees). In fact, on the title page, Wiggen gets an author credit for the book, and real author Mark Harris takes a backseat. The title page reads thusly:

Punctuation freely inserted and greatly improved

The Wiggen saga follows the narrator throughout his illustrious baseball career. In "The Southpaw," he's a young, rookie pitching sensation with high hopes and high expectations (think San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, or Royals star Zack Greinke). In "Bang the Drum Slowly," Wiggen is still young but he's already established as one of the league's top pitchers every year (compare to Jake Peavy or CC Sabathia). In "A Ticket for a Seamstitch," Lofflin's favorite book in the series, Wiggen is a veteran, a little older but still dominant and at the top of his class (like Johan Santana or Roy Halladay). And finally, in "It Looked Like For Ever," he's in the twilight of his career, a living immortal (Tom Glavine or Randy Johnson).

The Wiggen series is unique in sports literature, which is somewhat surprising. I would think a series of books following on player's career would be quite popular. But nobody has been able to pull it off quite like Mark Harris.

I'm two-thirds finished with "The Southpaw." I'll be reading more today between picks in the NFL Draft, and I hope to finish it up early next week.

Look for the review soon!

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kansas City Royals are winners!

The Royals were big time winners in 2008.

You read that right. The value of the Kansas City Royals franchise rose 4 percent in 2008, eighth highest in Major League Baseball, behind only the Yankees, Mets, Rays, Cubs, Twins, Marlins and Brewers, in that order. The Royals were squarely in the middle of the 17 teams whose value increased during 2008, joined there by the Dodgers, Padres and Phillies at 4 percent.

In fact, the Royals have been winners across the new century. The only year the Royals lost value was 2003 when the worth of the franchise fell $11 million. But taken as a whole, the Royals have proven a fine investment, increasing from a value of $96 million in 2000 to $314 million in 2008. That's 300 percent and change.

These are the findings released today by Forbes Magazine.

Here’s one finding you’ll love. The Royals squeezed out nearly 10 percent more victories per dollar spent on players than the league average in 2008. Might not have seemed like it to you as you watched the loses from the stands, but you were witnessing a terrific season.

So, a 327 percent return on investment across eight years ain't bad. No reason to feel sorry for the Glass family. In fact, as you watched those loses mount, you should have been cheering ... the bottomline.

In fact, the Royals had a much better season than the Yankees in 2008. The Royals operating income was $9 million, according to Forbes. The Yankess lost $3.7 million in operating income in 2008 and, like every thing else in Detroit, the Tigers lost a whopping $26.3 million in 2008. Operating income is what the team earned before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization are calculated. The Royals earned $143 million in 2008; the Yankees earned $375 million, which, in terms of the bottomline, means the Royals beat the Yankees last year despite ranking 28th in take. Only the Marlins took in less money.

Don't cry for the Yankees, however. In 2008 the Yanks as a franchise increased 15 percent in value, most in the major leagues, and the franchise you love to hate is currently worth -- according to Forbes -- a cool $1.5 billion.

I know you were miserable watching the Royals last year. But think positively. You were actually enjoying the play of a winning franchise. You just have to adopt the other guy's perspective.

BTW: Friday -- The Star finally got to this story but their take is quite a bit different, emphasizing the negative aspects of the report the way your poor cousin does when he is thinking he will ask you for a loan after Thanksgiving dinner.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Russian funeral business in grave state

Do you remember television when only the program you were watching was on the screen?

Remember how easy it was to focus on the game, for example, or to understand what Walter Concrete was saying?

Do you remember a world where we acknowledged this simple truth -- the human mind is only capable of doing one thing well at a time?

Now, to the crawl. As I have made abundantly clear, I hate the crawl. I would embrace a technological innovation which permitted me to turn the crawl off. If, if fact, you know of such a gadget please let me know.

Here are a few crazy crawls from the past week or so:

“Solar Tsunami data will predict earth havoc.”

“For every green job two regular jobs will be lost.”

“Russian funeral business in grave state.”

“Doctors remove small fir tree from lung of Russian man.”

Feel free to add more crazy crawls to the list.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Gutsy move by big-league manager

If you think it's tough for Kansas City fans to go through the recent perils of high-dollar bullpen bust Kyle Farnsworth, imagine what it must be like to be a Washington Nationals fan about now.

The Nats are sitting at 1-10, and many of their losses have been games blown by the team's relievers.

So what did Nationals manager Manny Acta do? On Sunday, he got rid of nearly the whole damn bullpen.

That's right. He shipped four pitchers to the minor leagues on Sunday. After another loss blown by the relief corps, he had this to say:

"I think it's embarrassing. I think it's unacceptable. I think our fans have every right to be mad, like we are right now. And it's not going to be tolerated. We're going to have a brand new bullpen tomorrow, and if those guys that come in don't get it done, we're going to continue getting guys out of here. Because I think all of us deserve better... The fact is, you have to throw strikes. This is the big leagues, and they're big league pitchers, and you win with pitching. We had a chance to win three games in a row, we couldn't do it, and it's not going to be tolerated. So starting tomorrow we're going to have a brand new bullpen. Plenty of moves, and more to come."

Managers (rightly) catch a lot of heat for the failures of their team. And Acta will be under the gun for this move, especially if the young guys he promoted to replace the old guys aren't any better.

But sometimes I get tired of managers tinkering. Trey Hillman is a world-renowned tinkerer, and sometimes it pisses me off. Sometimes, it's refreshing to see a manager just cut off the limb that's not pulling its weight.

(That's a bit of a mixed metaphor there, I know.)

--Matt Kelsey

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Unbelievable play

I finally found a link to a video of this mind-boggling play in Friday night's Royals game by second baseman Alberto Callaspo. It's perhaps the most amazing thing I've ever seen on a baseball field.

If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. It's great to see Callaspo's defense coming around to match his great upside with the bat.

Royals are looking pretty good so far, and of course it's terrific to hear all the Cy Young buzz flying around Zack Greinke. It looks to be an exciting summer.

--Matt Kelsey

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Boston Teabag Party?

The teabag movement is framed by the Boston Tea Party. This is not a frame the media created. This is the frame the teabaggers created. Fair enough. In fact, an excellent idea.

But, to be a reasonably accurate frame, protesters must be decrying taxation without representation. Right? However, unless they live in Minnesota, they have a full compliment of representatives in congress, unlike, of course, the original tea party protesters.

I guess the difference between bales of tea and tea bags is telling.

Here's the problem. If they believe they have no representation, they need to vote out their elected representatives and vote in new. Yet in poll after poll, Americans say they dislike everybody in congress except their own representative. It's everybody else's congressmen they don't like. It's like when my students say the media tells everybody what to think. So, I ask them if the media controls their thoughts. Of course, the answer is a resounding 'no' the media doesn't tell ME what to think... it just tells everybody else what to think.

What's that wonderful blues couplet? "Everybody wants to hear the truth/but everybody wants to tell a lie ... Everybody wants to go to heaven/ but nobody wants to die..."

So, if your representative doesn't represent you, vote him or her out. But, be aware, he might represent me and at the last election there may have been more of me than there were of you at the polling place. Hey, that's how it works.

Which means you do have representation. You just lost.

This seems to be the critical point these well-meaning, fun loving, dead serious, protestors, these modern day Abbie Hoffmans and Jerry Rubins, don't get. And, this is a serious not getting. This not getting is pretty dangerous for the idea of the republic.

Now, if they want to protest this convoluted tax code weighted heavily in favor of the wealthy, I'll walk shoulder to shoulder with them.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mini book review: "Old School"

In between baseball books, I decided to take a look at the novel featured in this year's 'Big Read.' This year, the city-wide book club features "Old School," by Tobias Wolff.

I have to say I was a little skeptical going in. Former "Big Read" books included works by Steinbeck and Hemingway. I had never heard of Tobias Wolff, and I didn't understand why his novel would be placed in this company.

I understand now. "Old School" is one hell of a great read.

"Old School" is about a boy in an upstate New York boarding school in the 1960s. The school has a strong focus on producing great writers, and the students compete for face-to-face meetings with visiting writers like Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and the aforementioned Ernest Hemingway.

I don't want to give away too much, but you can probably imagine those stakes would lead the young writers toward desperate measures.

"Old School is a very short novel at 195 pages. Too short, in fact, and I don't say that about many novels. In truth, most novels (even these fine baseball books I'm reading) could stand to be about a third shorter - how many times do you get bogged down by a novel halfway through? - but that's not the case with "Old School." I didn't want the book to end. I wanted another hundred pages.

Read this book, and participate in the "Big Read" events taking place all across the city. Tobias Wolff is going to be in town in May as well.

--Matt Kelsey

Tea parties ignored by media? Nope. Didn't happen

Every movement needs an enemy and everybody hates the media. Simple recipe. Only, the recipe didn't bake yesterday when tax protesters gathered around the country. Egged on by Fox moneymakers, they proclaimed in advance their protests would be underestimated and undercovered, perhaps not covered at all in the "mainstream" press, which means everybody but Fox. They were simply wrong.

That doesn't mean they won't say the mainstream media ignored them. But all you have to do is look at the front page of today's Kansas City Star to see they got plenty of respect. No locker room bulletin board material there.

And by the way, no "outside agitators" showed up to disrupt the protests, either.

Their real problem isn't the mainstream media. It's their message. They must find a way to sharpen their point. They're against big government? OK, what part of big government are you against? Military spending? Welfare spending? Spending on education? School lunch programs? Student loans and grants? Medicare or Medicaid? Road building? Police protection? FDA inspections? USDA research grants? Farm subsidies? Bulky item pickup?

When they were interviewed on cable news shows -- both left and right -- they were tongue-tied about what they were actually protesting. Mostly, it seemed, they were against bailouts. Or Congress. Or Obama. Or, just them. They were worried for the children. They had jobs and they didn't want to pay to help those who didn't. They make their mortgages and they didn't want to help those who can't. It was more like a Celestial Seasonings Sampler than a box on Liptons black.

To make a movement, you need a better idea about what you're against and a more clear definition of it than a bunch of tea bags dangling from your garden hat.

-- Lofflin, that's not to say their sense of fun wasn't refreshing, because it was...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One excellent outcome...

If one outcome of the diminished staff and new editorial direction of the Star is more space for Lee Hill Kavanaugh on page one then I say, bravo. You might argue with the subject matter but you can't argue with the writing.

Book review: 'Prophet of the Sandlots'

Tony Lucadello may be the best-known scout in the history of baseball. He signed Mike Schmidt and Fergie Jenkins. The tragic end of his life caused shockwaves through the game. He’s very worthy to be the subject of a book. He’s worthy of a dozen books.

But Mark Winegardner’s “Prophet of the Sandlots: Journeys with a Major League Scout” fails more than it succeeds.

I wrote about this briefly a few weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating: Winegardner’s excessive and gratuitous use of first-person writing really takes the reader out of this tale. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

“Prophet of the Sandlots” is a non-fiction “novel” that tells the story of the last year of Tony Lucadello’s life. Lucadello worked for the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies, mostly in the era before the amateur draft, and in his career he signed 52 players who eventually made it to the majors - believed to be, by far, more than any two scouts combined. (There’s a comprehensive list of those players here.)

And he didn’t do his job like other scouts. He didn’t carry a radar gun or a stopwatch, he didn’t sit right behind home plate (Lucadello roamed the stands, seeing the players from different angles), and he evaluated prospects differently. While other scouts were quick to dismiss a player based on one or two glaring negatives, Lucadello looked for pluses, and could spot how small changes could erase those negatives. This is how Lucadello found so many “sleepers” the other scouts passed on.

Lucadello was also known for preaching fundamentals over power and flash - something Lofflin and I have endorsed on this very blog. Lucadello believed baseball was dying because American kids didn’t practice fundamentals anymore. His vision was to have the father of every young boy in the country build a four-feet-by-four-feet concrete wall in their backyards. Then, each day, the boy could go outside and throw 100 balls against the wall, and also field those 100 balls. Then their dad could toss plastic golf balls for the boy to bat against the wall. When in practice, Lucadello saw dramatic results.

Winegardner got the great idea to follow Lucadello around for a year on his annual scouting trip. It just so happened that the scout died tragically shortly after the trip.

I admit it’s an interesting book. And I don’t want to harp on it, but “Prophet of the Sandlots” is chock-full of flaws. For instance, much is made of Lucadello’s signing of Mike Schmidt, but we hardly hear anything about how the scout signed Fergie Jenkins. And Lucadello’s death was just touched upon. I was craving more details.

(I found those details in this great article on ESPN’s Web site.)

And then there are the first person issues. Winegardner grew up in Ohio, the heart of Lucadello’s scouting region, and he’s often making irrelevant references to his own life. He goes on for a paragraph about how the radio station Lucadello listens to is the same one he listened to as a kid. Winegardner notes how one of the fields Tony frequents is “in the shadow of where I saw my first rock concert.” And there’s a whole chapter where Winegardner takes a trip by himself to Phillies training camp to meet some of Lucadello’s signees, but Lucadello is hardly mentioned in the chapter.

But maybe I’m like the baseball scouts who dismiss a player because of a few flaws. In fact, I know that’s right; a few years after he wrote this, Winegardner penned one of the most interesting baseball novels I’ve ever read, “The Veracruz Blues.” I’ll be reviewing that one later.

If for nothing else, the story of Tony Lucadello’s life makes “Prophet of the Sandlots” a worthwhile read.

--Matt Kelsey

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Last Local Newspapers?

Listen to this lede from today’s paper:

With a linebacker's build and in his impeccable blue uniform, Master Patrol Officer James Shriever is bound to command attention. But it was his message that got the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department officer undivided attention at the March VNA meeting.

Or this one:

Two years of joint effort by the Immanuel Lutheran Organizing Committee (IOC) and Volker neighbors will soon make possible safer crossings for pedestrians between Bell and Genessee streets.

Darn good writing.

I was sitting at the breakfast table Easter morning, ok… Easter afternoon, with the first Sunday edition of the new localized Kansas City Star on one side of my freshly cracked but a yet unpeeled Easter eggs and the latest copy of the Volker News on the other side. I rooted the front page of the Star out of the stack and did a quick inventory of the news. A McClatchy story about the captain of the hijacked ship led the page, below it a locally written piece about debt collectors, a good leisurely feature by Laura Bauer was in the feature spot (The Star’s design is predictable – always a big square in the middle for the feature of the day…) and a piece about the migration of early television to the computer at the bottom. I’m sure it will have a Kansas City angle inside, but it doesn’t on page one.

I ought to turn the page and find out, but the little Volker newspaper at my elbow seems to be nagging for attention.

I pull out the "house and home" section, notice a striking photograph on the front that turns out to be a fake, and begin reading the story, hoping to find out who the local furniture maker is in the photograph (which I did not yet know was an illustration, not a real Kansas Citian). Hold the suspense, the lead story was not about a local furniture maker, it was about a national furniture trend and all the quotes were from elsewhere.

A glance at the Volker News then I rummage for the sports section. Watched a bit of the Royals game yesterday and read some stories and the box score on and it’s too early to think about football but I spot Joe Posnanski’s column. I often like to read him and I did notice once in a restaurant what a generous tipper he was even though it wasn't customary to tip in the place. But the lede graph was 80 words, at least, and felt like a hundred words, and when I read to the bottom of the page he still hadn’t gotten close to the point. I just couldn’t summon the energy to go inside. I like Joe's stuff and next time I'll turn the page. Promise.

I picked up the Volker News and immediately went to work on the two stories whose ledes I quoted at the top. They were precise, well written, elegant journalism. Linda Farrell wrote the Westport Road story and Rick Ledig wrote the police story. Of course, brush and leaf pickup was headlined on page one and on the back page I found out about an effort to start a community garden in the neighborhood.

Together, it was a fine, useful, piece of local journalism. It perfectly illustrated the difference between local journalism and localized journalism. From a crassly economic point of view, if I were an advertiser, I’d want to be in the Volker News. I’m beginning to think the Volker News and its sister publications all over town, dozens of them, will be the last local newspapers.

-- Lofflin, hoping the Star can figure this puzzle out before Matt's nightmare comes true.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A scary vision of a Star-less future

Our Sunday newspaper was late this morning. My guess is our delivery driver overslept, or maybe he or she had the day off for Easter and a substitute driver was slow to cover the route.

The paper finally showed up at about 8:30 a.m. When I first went outside to collect the paper at 7:45 and found the driveway empty, my second thought was that my subscription had lapsed.

My first thought was that the Kansas City Star had finally gone under.

It scared me a little that the worst-case scenario was my first instinct. A year ago - or even a few months ago - I would have just assumed that I forgot to pay my bill.

I have no doubt that eventually the Kansas City Star and most newspapers will cease to exist in their current form. I don't think it's going to happen soon, though; I think newspapers (including the Star) will be around a lot longer than people expect.

But is this how it will happen? Will the city just wake up one morning and find its driveways empty?

I've been through the closure of a newspaper - a small paper, sure, but still an important part of the community. From my perch in the editor's office I obviously felt the impact - I lost my job, and I heard hundreds of comments from a disappointed community. But it must be a different thing altogether to count on a newspaper every day and then, suddenly, NOT have it.


One more note - we've gotten some great Internet vibes from Lofflin's insightful and thought-provoking post about the current state of the Star, including this post at Bottom Line Communications. In the post, John Landsberg calls the Henry Wiggen Blog "One of the most interesting blogs around."

Thanks for the love, John! I think I can speak for Lofflin when I say when it comes to covering media issues in KC, nobody does it like Bottom Line.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Masters of the local universe: The Star reborn?

If it is fair to critique the baseball manager on the results of his first two games, it’s fair to critique the Kansas City Star on the first two days of “local” coverage on page one. Trey Hillman is one and one. The Star, sadly, is oh for two.

Definitions matter and you have to wonder if the first two days indicate how Star editors define “local.” The first day after the newspaper's big pronouncement about how folding the Metro section into the A section would increase the emphasis on local coverage, here is the menu for page one:

1. A story about the local NFL team.
2. A story about the local Major League Baseball team.
3. A story about a national exhibit coming to Union Station, with an absolute nightmare gumbo of art.
4. A story quoting a local congressman about a national issue.

You can almost hear the braintrust snicker: They want local; we’ll give ‘em local.

Of course, no one knows what the braintrust thinks, whether it snickers or ponders. But you do know what it featured on an “all-local” front page. Sorry. This is not local coverage. This is not about Kansas City people, not about neighborhoods, not about local murderers or local heroes. It’s not about how the economic crisis is going to change the way the city picks up your trash.

This is, for all practical purposes, more news from nowhere.

And, day two? This morning the front page read exactly like front pages before the promise of local news. The lead story was datelined Washington and written by a McClatchy correspondent. It did not mention Kansas City on page one. The second was a “localized” story, an obviously unoriginal take on yesterday's Wall Street Journal piece concerning security at utility plants. Call this “semi-local” just to be generous. The third piece was also “localized;” a story about a new television reality show with a quote from a local attorney barely squezed onto page one before the jump. The fourth was a story about brown fat, again “localized.” Anyone with Internet access or a subscription could have read about this yesterday in the New York Times.

Now you know how the Star defines local… so far. Major league franchises, Washington D.C., and -- count 'em -- three “localized” stories, two reported yesterday in other newspapers.

And they wonder why the Grand old man is sinking?


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Calling a mulligan on Opening Day

Disappointing start to the season for the Royals yesterday, but of course there are some things to perk up about - like Gil Meche's awesome seven innings and Mark Teahen's consistently hot bat.

Had to shake my head at the eighth inning decision to leave righty power pitcher Kyle Farnsworth in against Jim "I Crush Righty Power Pitchers" Thome, especially when lefty Mahay was warm and ready to go. I can't add anything that hasn't already been said on sports talk radio today, but I did find Joe Posnanski's column in the Star today interesting. Here's the money quote, after Joe asked Hillman to come out of the clubhouse and answer some questions:

Hillman came out. I told him that I just wanted to know what goes through a manager’s mind in a moment like that. He was not happy with the question.

“I thought you wanted to ask me something else,” he said. “I didn’t know these were game questions.”

Well, I have to admit, that baffled me. I’m not sure if he thought I wanted to ask parenting advice or if he had a pick for the Masters.

But it was just opening day. Now I'm watching Game 2. Gavin Floyd just retired the side in the top of the first, but now Greinke's looking okay - But it doesn't seem we're getting the same wide strike zone the White Sox got.

--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Segway to Opening Day -- The MLB Blues

Opening Day was a bust. Period. It was too cold most of the places where games were played. Pay attention to the Farmer's Almanac, Major League Baseball. And, Major League Baseball's computer television was a disaster. Nothing worked the way it should, just like last year. The new player was unwatchable. You'd never know from MLB's front page, but if you search inside you can find where they finally acknowledged their problems, kind of like it took a century and the Congress to get them to acknowledge problems with drugs (and greed) in the game.

Of course, the blog MLB touts on the front page reads: "See what fans are raving about" so, as Bill Clinton says, it all rests on your definitions. In this case, the truth rests on your definition of "raving." If you go inside to the "quality questions" forum you find threads labeled: "choppy, choppy, choppy," "stops every 5 to 10 seconds," and "when half the subscribers cancel today..." Now, "horrible" is how to define "raving" in this context. By the sixth inning of the Cardinal's game I was definitely raving.

Sorry for a sour puss report, but sometimes you gotta tell the truth. The world is too full of mendacity to tolerate such shameless shilling.

More later on the latest sorry move at the Star.

--Lofflin, in a better mood than it seems...

PS: It's 8:02 p.m. Central and MLB has taken down the negative threads under the "quality questions" category. Let's review from 1984: Black is white, good is bad, war is peace, A-Rod is clean... Amazing how powerful the Henry Wiggen Blog is.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Opening Day (sort of)

Stupid Chicago snowstorm.

I had planned my day around watching the Royals begin their march to glory today against the Chicago White Sox, but the game was delayed because of winter weather in the Windy City. So I'm reduced to watching the games on ESPN.

Right now, it's Yankees-Orioles, with the insufferable Joe Morgan in the broadcast booth. But a pretty decent game between the Mets and Reds concluded a few minutes ago. The Mets, who won 2-1 on strong pitching by Johan Santana, J.J. Putz and K-Rod, look pretty damn good. I think they're the team to beat in the National League this year.

During commercial breaks, I'm still reading through the Kansas City Star's Royals preview section. If you haven't seen it, pick up a Sunday paper at your local gas station. It's a good read, with a lot of lengthy features about your favorite Royals players.

--Matt Kelsey

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The benefits (and perils) of first-person writing

One of the many things I learned from John Lofflin was to avoid first-person writing in journalism. It’s a rule I’ve tried to live by, and I believe I’ve only broken it on one occasion, last year when I wrote a magazine-length feature story about William Least Heat-Moon.

I’m proud of that story, but in hindsight it has a pretty serious flaw: at times, the story became more about me than about Heat-Moon. This is a common problem in first-person writing.

One hundred pages in, this is also the flaw in Mark Winegardner’s “Prophet of the Sandlots,” the non-fiction baseball book I’m reading right now.

Winegardner wrote the book after following baseball scout Tony Lucadello during the last year of the scout’s life. It’s a fascinating subject; Lucadello is a colorful figure in baseball history, and regarded as one of the greatest scouts of all time (more than 50 players he scouted made it to the major leagues).

Winegardner became a big part of Lucadello’s life in his final year, so it would be difficult to write around first-person (but not impossible). As written, however, oftentimes I feel like I’m reading a book about Mark Winegardner and not about the baseball scout.

Mark Winegardner is a very able writer, though, and this book was written pretty early in his career. Since then, Winegardner has written the excellent baseball novel “Veracruz Blues,” which I’ll be reviewing later, and he also became the successor to Mario Puzo’s “Godfather” saga. Winegardner was hand-picked by Puzo’s estate to write “The Godfather Returns” and “The Godfather’s Revenge.” (Puzo’s masterpiece is one of my favorite all-time books. Winegardner’s sequels fall flat compared to the original, but hell, that’s a mighty big pair of shoes to fill.)

But Winegardner’s talent in his other novels just serves to highlight the pratfalls of first-person writing, as seen in “Prophet of the Sandlots.”

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Idols and heroes: The old men lace 'em up again

As Matt points out, baseball novelists are obsessed with heroes. And since baseball represents something particular in the American spirit – most baseball novels turn on precisely WHAT baseball means to Americans – these fictional stories are naturally about what it is to be an American hero.

Spring training is almost over and soon the talk about real life baseball heroes will begin. The guys who play hurt. The big guys who launch the ball into the fountains or the coves, the little guys who play scrappy and hard and stick in the majors despite their size.

I’m sorry, but anybody who tells you a professional baseball player is a hero is dealing hokum. In my book, once you cash the first million, you’re an entertainer and nothing you do on the field is heroic. For a million dollars everybody I know would play with two broken legs.

I was telling a group of neighborhood newsletter editors last night about a story I did for the old City Magazine. It was about a displaced old farmer with displaced values and serious health issues who woke up every morning he wasn’t in the hospital, took out his homemade tools and spent a good portion of the day cleaning up the trash in his deteriorating urban neighborhood. Now, ladies and gentlemen, HE was a hero. Nobody paid him a penny to get out there and do that job and, for him, it wasn't easy. His work on the sidewalks around Texas Tom’s was particularly heroic.

No, you can have Alex and Michael. Gifted athletes, yes. Heroes, no.

One of my favorite pieces of American journalism is the long story Tom Wolfe wrote early in his career on the stock car racer Junior Johnson. You can read it on the Esquire Website as one of their seven best feature stories ever. Wolfe’s premise was that Junior Johnson was the last American hero.

He didn’t distinguish him from other heroes because Junior represented something special to his followers which transcended sports. What made him special, mostly, was money. Big money from Detroit was raining down on the dirt and asphalt tracks of the Old South. But Junior wouldn’t take the Yankee money in 1965, and his fans loved him for it.

As Wolfe says, the question wasn’t whether Junior would win the race, the question was whether Junior’s car would break down. If it didn’t break down, well you were likely to see the “little bit dead serious” look in Junior’s eye as he passed your big money Yankee paid-for rig.

Today, I think the last American sports heroes are the kids who wake up at 6 a.m. every morning on small college campuses to get in two hours of practice before class, who play hurt and play hard with little or no hope of ever getting paid to play.

Then, of course, there are the old men among you who actually pay to play. All over town this week and last, they’re cleaning up their spikes or breaking in new, wrapping new athletic tape on the handles of their bats, rubbing Neats Foot Oil (Strasser Hardware, second floor) into their gloves. They’re testing knees and shoulders, elbows and wrists, to see if they’ve got just one more season in them for the game they love. Just one more.

After the first hitter shoots a rocket into the five-six hole, everything seems to be in slow motion for a couple of innings. Their muscles and their minds remember a faster pace, more snap on the shortstop’s throw and more speed down the line. Most of them have played this game more than a half century, so give ‘em a break. But by the third inning every night, the speed of the game seems about right and it’s just ball playing again, just like the endless pickup games they organized as kids.

They fight – sometimes quite literally – and they scrap, they come through and they fail, some dominate and some just pray they don’t let the guys down. They scratch where they itch, they spit in the dirt and they swear entirely new obscenities, constructions no one ever dreamed of before.

And, they ALL play hurt. Every night they play hurt. Torn this and that, bone chips here and there, arthritis screaming from joints they didn’t know they had. Ben Gay is more abundant than pine tar in the dugout. They don’t get paid to play. They play for one reason. They love the game.

Are they heroes or fools? Don’t ask their wives. And don’t ask them until about noon the day after their doubleheaders when the coffee and Tylenol finally kick in. And, don’t ask them if they’ll be ready to go Sunday. They will.

--Lofflin, cursing a cold rain on a good day to hit

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Didn't see it shaking out this way...

A few interesting moves by our hometown Kansas City Royals today.

According to, Trey Hillman has decided on a five-man rotation of Gil Meche, Zack Greinke, Kyle Davies, Horacio Ramirez and Sidney Ponson. Ponson will pitch the home opener.

The two odd men out in this arrangement are Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar.

I was pretty surprised by the decision. I'm not saying I don't like it, per se, I'm just surprised. I actually thought it would be Banny and Hochevar in and Ramirez and Ponson out (as did a lot of fans).

I'm all for giving Big Sid a chance. Lofflin might like to chime in on how he performed in the World Baseball Classic. But I don't really expect him to be in the rotation all season. (If he is, I'd say that's a huge success.)

As for as Ramirez, hopefully he'll settle down after a shaky spring. The Royals seemed to be pretty dead-set on having a lefty in the rotation, so I guess I see the logic.

The Royals also traded Ross Gload to the Marlins for that wonderful baseball phrase, "a player to be named later." This move makes sense. But I liked Gload. I don't like him as an everyday player, but he's certainly a good, versatile utility man to have on the team. And if you watch him play, you'll see he's an extremely, extremely poor man's version of Ichiro.

Hopes are high in the Kelsey house. Opening day is next week!

--Matt Kelsey