Saturday, October 31, 2009
Happy Halloween, everybody!
The holiday for me always brings back a memory of a strange occurrence from my journalism career.
In 2004 I was the editor of the weekly newspaper in Wynne, Arkansas, a backwards little town on the Mississippi River delta in the eastern portion of the state, about an hour west of Memphis. For those of you who equate the State of Arkansas with the Ozarks, wipe that from your thoughts... eastern Arkansas is the flattest country I've ever seen. They grow rice there in flooded fields. Think Kansas is flat? Take a drive from Cherry Valley to Forrest City sometime. And yes, Forrest City, a few miles away from Wynne, is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was a Civil War general and went on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I guess nobody ever considered changing the name of the town, although if I lived in Germany and my city was called Hitlerville, I think I'd want something different. On that same note, the city of Wynne, just like most of the towns down there, is literally divided by a set of railroad tracks. The white people live on one side of the tracks, and the African Americans live on the other side. No exceptions. No questions asked. No kidding.
The name of the town is pronounced "Win" by me and every Northerner I know, but down there "Wynne" has two syllables: "Wee-uhn." The football team's cheerleaders loved to yell "GOOOO WEEE-UHNNNN!!!" on the sidelines.
So one day in mid-October I was sitting in my office and a County Judge walked through the doors. County Judges are the equivalent of county commissioners in the civilized world, except in Arkansas there are about fifteen judges in each county, compared to three commissioners in most places. The County Judge strode into my office and said, "I jis' wanna remind you that we'll be celebratin' Halloween on Saturday this year."
Now, October 31st was on Sunday. I asked the judge, "Who's we?"
"Ever'body," he said.
"Why in the world," I asked, "would everybody be celebrating Halloween on the 30th instead of the 31st?"
"Well, hell," he replied. "We cain't have Halloween on a Sunday. That's a church night."
Now, I'd heard of a school night before. But I'd never heard of a church night. I'm not sure if it's because they didn't want the kids to miss Sunday night church activities or if they didn't want their children dressed up as vampires and goblins and demons on the day of the Lord. I asked a few of my co-workers, who were natives of this strange land, and they confirmed it. That's how it always happened when Halloween fell on a Sunday.
My wife and I were living in a duplex down there, so we stocked up on candy. And sure enough, on Saturday night, October 30, we had hundreds of Trick or Treaters. We gave away so much candy, I had to make a late night run to the store for more. And I bought extra, too, because I was certain we'd have more tykes at our doorstep on the real Halloween.
"Surely we'll have at least a few Trick-or-Treaters tomorrow night," I told Jamie.
Not a single one. They all abided by the "church night" rule.
We didn't stay in Wynne very long after that. The Halloween incident was not a factor. The backward-ness of the town? Well, yeah, I guess you could say it contributed to to our departure. By late November I had taken an editor's job back in Missouri, up north in Maryville to be exact.
Which also happens to be a backwards town...
But at least they celebrate Halloween on the right night.
PS: After I wrote the above post I spoke to some of my more aged friends and family, and they told me the "No Halloween on Sunday" custom was standard even in this part of the country back when they were children, but it's fallen by the wayside in recent decades. Interesting that some Southern towns still cling to it.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Because baseball is organic, because it has seasons, because players have lifespans within the game, baseball is a perfect subject for novel writers. Players emerge in the game as boys, mature, become men, and leave the game as old men, sometimes staying too long, rarely leaving too soon.
In baseball we see the new tender leaves sprout and we see the leaves fall.
And so last night we witnessed the very nature of aging, of growing old. And at times it made us cheer. It also reminded us youth does not last forever, and our strength and wiles have their limits.
For five innings, Pedro Martinez defied age. Even without a major-league fastball, the old man struck out eight Yankees using precision and wisdom. His performance was something old men could cheer.
And then his house of cards came crashing down. We knew it would; everybody in Yankee stadium knew it would. But it was reassuring to watch as long as it lasted and it was the sort of drama only baseball can bring.
Then the masterful Rivera came on and, uncharacteristically, got in trouble and we were reminded again "after all he is 39 years old." He managed to escape but it is clear even number 42 can't defeat age.
I think we see two kinds of age. Physical Age is a force of nature. We can try, medical science can try, but Physical Age will win. Mental Age is something else. Mentally, we can push back against nature. Perhaps our spirit is even ageless.
I remember walking away from our last 60-and-over ball game this fall on a disappointing damp wet night. The boys (perpetually of autumn) were saying their goodbyes, see you next springs. And they were talking to each other about what they would do this winter to get ready, to be better. They talked of lifting weights and jogging and -- above all else -- of being twenty pounds thinner when the sun comes back and the leaves are tender. Sixty-some years old and we're still thinking about getting better.
We, no doubt, watched those two aging pitchers last night with special joy.
And, some of us made arrangements for batting practice this weekend.
PPS: Tom points out how much fun it is to watch Charlie Manual manage a team old-school style, and I agree. He may have made the classic mistake of riding the horse one inning too long, but still I like to see a manager who smiles once in a while and lets the boys play a bit. Younger managers seem much more like control freaks. Of course, my favorite manager is in John R. Tunis' World Series -- a player-manager battling his own age issues.
I almost forgot to mention Matty Stairs, as well. Can't catch up to the fastball, Joe Morgan said (over and over). Hmmmm... Think he had the only Philly RBI, didn't he?
And how much would you give to go back in time and reverse the stupidity of letting Raul Ibanez leave? Come to think of it, former Royals accounted for the only run Philly scored last night. Makes you proud, eh?
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I don't have much to say about it, except to pass on an interesting statistic I heard during the broadcast. Chase Utley, a left-handed batter, hit two home runs off CC Sabathia, a left-handed pitcher, last night. The last lefty batter two hit two dingers off a lefty pitcher in a World Series game?
Monday, October 26, 2009
"The Great American Novel" is told from the perspective of a disgraced journalist named Word Smith ("Fella name a' Smith, first name a' Word"). 'Smitty,' who claims to be an advisor to presidents, a man who plays cards with Popes and a friend of Ernest Hemingway (later on in the review series we'll talk more about Hemingway's presence in baseball novels), decides he's going to write the 'great American novel' about the history of the Patriot League, a baseball league he says existed until just shortly after World War II. After a lengthy prologue (46 pages!) about Smitty's dubious attempt to get a Patriot League star into the Baseball Hall of Fame, "The Great American Novel" is exactly that: a history of the Patriot League.
Most particularly, the book focuses on an East Coast team called the Ruppert Mundys, which hails from the town of Port Ruppert and has a storied history and a passionate fan base called the Rupe-it Rootas. But when World War II breaks out, the team's owners, the Mundy brothers, allow the War Department to use the home stadium as a military base, making the Mundys a permanent road team for the 1943 season.
We're introduced to all the Mundy players, including a one-armed outfielder, a one-legged catcher, ancient pitchers, a fourteen-year-old second baseman and a center fielder who may just be the best ballplayer on the whole damn planet. And we also meet other characters around the league, including three particularly fascinating team owners. Frank Mazuma is a tireless promoter (think Charlie Finley on steroids) who hires midgets and - gasp! - African Americans to play on his team. Ellis Goldberg, a tight-fisted, stereotypical Jew who is hated by all his players, has a prepubescent son named Isaac, an early-day sabermatrician who would make Bill James proud. And then there's Angela Whittling Trust, who inherited her team from her late husband. She rattles on about the "enemies of America" and believes the President of the United States to be one of them (sound familiar?). Although she rails against Communists during WWII, her dialogue could almost have been lifted directly from Fox News circa 2009:
...We are dealing with an enemy far more cunning and insidious than that deluded psychopath [Hitler] out to conquer the world with bombs and bullets. No, even while this war rages on against the Germans and the Japs, the other war against us has already begun, the invisible war, the silent assault upon the very fabric that holds us together as a nation.
As you can see, Roth's book, written in 1973, is decades before its time. But I wouldn't be surprised if he was influenced by other baseball writers. The story of Patriot League pitcher Gil Gamesh sounds an awful lot like Jock Casey from Robert Coover's "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop," written a few years earlier. And the informal style of Smitty is reminiscent of Henry Wiggen from Mark Harris' delightful series, which began in the 1950s.
Roth is influential, too, not only in his baseball books but in his whole library of groundbreaking fiction.
"The Great American Novel," although it fails to live up to its lofty title, is a fine baseball book from one of the authors of our time.
And, it's one of the funniest books I've ever read.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Figure skating from Russia and the Times from New York at the breakfast table: And the danger of things plugged to wall sockets
We are sitting at the breakfast table with blueberry muffins. Nothing extraordinary about the blueberry muffins, except they are good. Nothing extraordinary about the breakfast table. I built it nearly 20 years ago by hand and it has held up. Underneath the furniture I make -- which, I have to admit, is often crude but serviceable -- I pencil in my name and the date and anything interesting about the construction.
In this case I scrawled, "nearly gave two fingers for this table," on the bottom. A makeshift table saw bucked as I was cutting the legs. It was a Saturday, Kathy was listening to Prairie Home Companion upstairs, and I remember walking up from the basement holding my hand so the severed parts of my fingers wouldn't dangle, wrapping the whole bloody mess in a towel and saying quite calmly to my wife, "Kathy, we have a problem."
Houston, we have a problem.
Well, the hospital folks sewed them back on, if a bit crooked, some feeling returned -- certainly enough to type -- (fortunately it wasn't my throwing hand, my first thought as I walked up the stairs from the basement), and I've sworn off makeshift tools plugged to wall sockets.
What is extraordinary is this: She is watching figure skaters on the ice in Russia -- live -- on her laptop. And I am reading the New York Times on mine.
In between us are the blueberry muffins, a cup of strong coffee, a stack of contact sheets from a class field trip to the Park waterfall and Kathy's beading board where she is building a necklace.
When I'm feeling curmudgeonly about what technology has wrought, I need to remember this morning -- the pleasure and the reach of it.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Who's on First for the new era: Post Season reminds of the original -- the umps look like a comedy team
COSTELLO CALLS TO BUY A COMPUTER FROM ABBOTT
ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: Thanks I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking
about buying a computer.
COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou.
ABBOTT: Your computer?
COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.
COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou.
ABBOTT: What about Windows?
COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?
ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?
COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?
COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.
ABBOTT: Software for Windows?
COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write
proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?
COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?
ABBOTT: I just did.
COSTELLO: You just did what?
ABBOTT: Recommend something.
COSTELLO: You recommended something?
COSTELLO: For my office?
COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?
COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!
ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.
COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say
sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?
COSTELLO: What word?
ABBOTT: Word in Office.
COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.
ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.
COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?
ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue 'W'.
COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue 'w' if you don't start with
straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I
can track my money with?
COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?
COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?
ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.
COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?
COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?
ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.
COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?
ABBOTT: One copy.
COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?
ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.
COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?
ABBOTT: Why not? THEY OWN IT!
(A few days later)
ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?
ABBOTT: Click on 'START'.............
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I know baseball is based on judgments; they are called umpires rather than referees or officials. But this is really bad and it is threatening the integrity of the post-season. I don't want to think this is just because we have such extraordinary camera work these days.
Revisited some images I shot during the 1978 or 1979 Yankees/Royals post-season series. Warmed my heart to see images of the White Rat, George Brett at third base, Reggie and Mookie, John Mayberry dropping a crucial pop-up and Freddie Patek hanging his head on the bench with the game over. I'll digitize them later and post them this week.
Wonder how long it will be before we see another post season game in Kauffman Stadium.
Monday, October 19, 2009
My favorite line came from a talking head on a cable news program, who said that since the whole incident was nothing but a hoax, essentially "The whole world watched a balloon floating in the air for three hours."
That same segment questioned whether the story was really news.
You bet your ass it's news.
It's news because people are interested in it, some - including myself - downright fascinated.
It's news because, as one paper estimated, as much as $2 million was spent in the rescue efforts.
It's news because one American family, with little more than a jumbo-sized role of aluminum foil and a helium tank, was able to capture the attention of the nation.
And it's news because thousands of people in Denver and millions more around the globe, either through prayers, ideas or actions, came together to help save a little boy in trouble.
Just because he wasn't really in trouble doesn't mean it's not news.
I'd love to hear what John has to say about this, as well as any of our other readers with connections to the news business.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
And, in other breaking news, I promise the headline to this post is the last time I'll use the phrase "OMG" on this blog. Apologies.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Maybe the return of playoff baseball tonight will soothe us after a day of fake mile-high drama.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Joe Lambe got an interview with one of the women in the alleged bigamy case in one of our prominent southern suburbs. It is a dozy. The long-time wife's response to the new wife is worth the price of admission: "It's always something with him," she reportedly said when the second wife confronted her.
You couldn't make this stuff up. Fiction writers, eat your hearts out.
I can't improve on Lambe's droll retelling, so I won't try, except to say it is a testament to the raw power of unembellished journalistic prose. But, I will say this: Don't miss the comments section below the story.
It appears a lot of guys think one wife is quite enough. Or, as one guy wrote under the preliminary story, one mother-in-law is sufficient trouble for any man. Two? You could feel him shudder as he typed.
And some guys wonder about the alleged bigamist's ability to keep two women "happy", or, as Muddy Waters delicately puts it, "satisfied." This is (occasionally) a family blog, so no comment will be made on this particular issue.
Cold rain. A stack of papers to grade. Milk shake skies. No ball to play and the prospect of no ball to watch. I needed a good laugh this morning as much as I needed a strong cup of coffee. Thanks, Joe.
Monday, October 12, 2009
The playoffs have been pretty good so far, including that one-game tiebreaker between the Twins and the Tigers which may have been one of the best baseball games I've ever seen. One thing that's disappointed me, though, is a lack of fundamentals by these teams, which are supposed to be the best teams in the league.
Take this, for example: how many times, just during these playoffs, have we seen near-collisions on popups because players refuse to simply CALL FOR THE BALL? I don't understand it. This is little league stuff. Call for the damn ball! We've also seen some horrendous baserunning, resulting in lost runs and lost games. Rockies star Troy Tulowitski just pulled his own baserunning bonehead play a few moments ago.
Fans of some of the losing teams may blame poor umpiring, and yes, there have been some questionable calls. The Twins were the victims of bad calls during their series with the Yankees. But it's not why they lost.
As a Royals fan who takes great pride in the team's 1985 World Series trophy, I always bristle when fans blame bad calls for lost ballgames. Cardinals fans still blame Don Denkinger for "The Call" in Game 6 of the 1985 series. These idiots forget, though, that the Cardinals also dropped a routine fly ball in that inning, and also runners advanced on a passed ball. (And, Jorge Orta was thrown out on the basepaths, rendering the negative effects of "The Call" virtually irrelevant.) And, of course, they also forget the 11-0 drubbing they took at the hands of the Royals in Game 7.
The Twins lost to the Yankees because of mistakes, plain and simple.
If Philadelphia can pull out a win tonight or in Game 5, we'll have the Phillies vs. the Dodgers and the Yankees vs. the Angels.
I'm rooting for Angels-Phillies. I think this would be the most entertaining series. Yankees-Dodgers would be interesting for the Joe Torre angle (and the first season in new Yankee Stadium). Angels-Dodgers would be good for the crosstown rivalry, and it would be cool to see the Angels win for Nick Adenhart. The best baseball would be played between the Yankees and the Phillies, though.
So any way it goes down we'll have a great storyline to follow, and a fun World Series.
Just call for the damn ball!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Proletarian book reviewing. That's what you have here on the Henry Wigging Blog. Where else does the reviewer admit to you he has but two choices: 1) get the review finished by next Sunday, or 2) go to the library and check the book out again. I'm sorry, that's unique in the annals of American literary criticism.
What that tells you is this: the Henry Wiggen blog is beholden to no one. We are not in any big book publisher’s pocket. We're not in the pocket of any big-box bookselling conglomerate. We're not in any agent’s pocket, any writer's pocket -- even the CIA can't tell us whether we like a book or don't like a book.
That's what you get on the Henry Wiggin blog. The truth. Read it and weep.
Friday, October 9, 2009
I'm still reading it, but I wanted to share a really great line that I believe sums up Roth's writing style. The line is referring to an aged but still beautiful woman named Angela Trust who is the owner of a baseball team in the now-defunct Patriot League. She inherited the team from her husband, for whom she has a great amount of respect and reverence now that he's dead. She has also had heated affairs with some of baseball's biggest names, including Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.
This is how Roth describes Angela Trust's love life:
There had been five men in her life who mattered, and none had been her husband; her affair with him had begun only after he was in the ground.
It's shockingly good writing.
Most of Roth's best lines in the book are aimed at humor, and I've found myself laughing out loud several times.
The book is due back at the library in a week, so I'll either have a review done soon or I'll have to recheck it.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Name the player you wish the Royals had not given up.
Let's see, this would be the most most valuable player no longer on the team. MVP-NLT.
Here's my vote: Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez has been a clutch hitter across the breadth of his career. His average is in the .260s this year, but he has 34 dingers and 90-some RBI. He's been a decent left fielder who doesn't take those funky routes to the ball Royals left fielder's take. He's managed to be on two teams playing on the big stage in October, and he's come through both times.
He just battled a tough pitch into center field to score two runs for the Phils at a crucial point in today's game. The Royals desperately need clutch players, players who battle, players who get the job done. He's not flashy, his ego appears to be in check, he doesn't spend half the season on the disabled list, he doesn't swing at bad pitches, and he plays hard every day. And, as you saw in the bottom of the eighth, he hates making outs. Just hates it.
Watching Ibanez today shows just how poorly Royals' management has evaluated talent. They could've kept him in the fold. They didn't.
Make a list of the outfielders they've sent into the green fields of Kauffman Stadium, starting with Juan and Jose. No need to go farther.
Today, Royals players are floating on some lake somewhere fishing for bass. Raul Ibanez is on the field in Philadelphia playing in the October sun.
Who gets your vote for MVPNLT?
--Lofflin (And don't even think about bringing Mike Sweeney into this discussion...)
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
In my humble opinion, I think the Tigers actually played better baseball. (How 'bout that defense from Brandon Inge and Ryan Rayburn?) The Twins got the breaks, though. You gotta love that about this wonderful, crazy game of baseball... sometimes, the best team loses.
One criticism I have of last night's broadcast - What's the deal with these announcers? God, they were awful. The on-field reporter was worthless and couldn't hardly speak in a complete sentence, Ron Darling didn't add anything of value, and the play-by-play guy was certainly nothing special. Is this what we're gonna be subjected to throughout the division series? And then, in the ALDS, we'll get the added commentary of David Wells! Wells was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon a couple days ago, and he was just downright creepy.
At least the World Series will be on Fox.
Monday, October 5, 2009
What a nightmare year it's been.
We can still hold out hope that our presidential nominee, Zack Greinke, can win the Cy Young Award (I'm sure we'll be discussing it either way). But ultimately, it feels like a relief that the season is over.
Do we have much to look forward to in 2010? Nope. The roster's probably gonna look pretty much the same. Will we get a coveted No. 1 overall draft pick? Nope. We didn't suck quite enough for that. So we'll get the No. 4 or No. 5 overall pick, and he'll cruise around the minors for five or six years and then maybe break in with the Royals for a season or two until he washes out.
Gosh, that sounds cynical. But hey, this is the Royals.
I will always root for this team. But I hope to always be a realist, too.
Again, let's just be glad the season is over.
And now we can look forward to the rest of the season for the Chiefs...
Saturday, October 3, 2009
It is a special place, that mound in the middle of the diamond. It's a place for a magician, an escape artist, a showman, a gun slinger. Part Harry Houdini; part Billy the Kid. You've got to be cocky to do any good out there. You've got to enjoy the limelight. You've got to feel the eyes on you and say to yourself, "This is exactly where I want to be right now. I'm the perfect person to get out of this jam. Watch me make a fool of this big goon with a bat."
Of course, you've also got to have a live arm and a major league curveball. You don't have to be particularly smart, but it helps. If you aren't smart, you have to be smart like a fox.
You've got to have guts. You're closer to the man with the bat than anyone else in fair territory. Everybody in the park watches what you do, every pitch. On the mound, that little piece of real estate unique in sport, you will find no where to hide. Make a mistake and you wear the dunce cap. You can't be afraid of anything out there.
Zack Greinke is all of this and more. He should win the Cy Young if the gods are paying attention in the heavens. On any other team -- on the Yankees, for example -- he'd have 20 wins this season. Maybe more.
But I will always love Zack Greinke for something else. I'll always love him for something he said. In New York earlier this week, a member of the press asked him a typical New York question. Wouldn't you rather be pitching in the post season? The unsaid question: Wouldn't you rather be pitching in the post-season, with the whole world watching, for the mighty Yanks?
“Yeah, definitely,” he said, according to the Kansas City Star. “But I don’t want to pitch for New York in the playoffs. I want to pitch for Kansas City in the playoffs.”
For that, I would vote for Zack Greinke for president.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Maybe we wouldn't even have to fire Hillman. Maybe just "promote" him. Make him, I don't know, Royals Director of Faith-Based Programs or something like that. Or he could be the head of our Japanese scouting department and bring us more gems like Yasuhiko Yabuta.
Or, maybe we could trade Hillman to the Indians for Wedge. They're lookin' for a new manager!
We might even have a selling point. It's gonna come right down to the wire this year to see which of the two teams finishes in last place. And, besides, Wedge couldn't make his team win with a center fielder named Sizemore and a DH named Hafner in his lineup. Hillman is giving Kansas City basically the same record with a center fielder named Maier (who?) and a DH named Jacobs (why?).
So come on, Indians! Just send ol' Eric down here. We'll take him off your hands!