Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jolly thoughts for a cold dark morning with steam rising on the ponds and ducks in the water-- Not!

Bah Humbug.

No, this is not a Christmas rant. I've got no gripe with Christmas this morning. My gripe is with morning.

Morning, I hate you.

Especially in winter, I hate you. I hate waking up in the dark, stumbling around in the dark to get the coffee pot fired up. Looking for my shoes, rubbing my eyes red, the taste of elephant hooves in my throat, and not even getting to dip a fishing rod in the water as a reward.

Ah, morning. A rod in the water, hot coffee in the Thermos, the promise of crappie for lunch. Dream on.

Ducks leave wide sparkling wakes on the big pond off Highway 45. Steam rises and the sun is barely above the horizon. Yes, but no joy for me. I left my camera at home and I don't have time to fish. Drive on by, big boy.

Instead, I have a final exam to give. Which these days means presiding over a room of 30 people who feel exactly as I do about morning; me feeling their angry eyes for interrupting their progression to the credential they believe they need to have a decent life. As a tiny reward, I'll show them "Who's On First" from "Naughty Nineties," knowing they could find it themselves on You Tube any time they wanted, anyway.

Some mornings I feel useless. I feel like life has passed me on the highway and decided not to take a picture.

A few minutes later, I'm sitting in a coffee shop with fake logs in the fireplace, unlit, watching the sun come up over Taco Bell and the early arriving employee who unlocks the door then sucks down one last cigarette in the cold air on the sidewalk outside. Man, what those gloves must smell like after a few of those morning heaters! A chubby carpenter works his way into a pair of brown quilted coveralls. He’s got a cranberry colored awning to fix this morning.

It's just 8:15 but the Taco 12-Pack is back and we've got to get ready.

And I'm ready for another day of murder, abuse and mayhem in the early years of the new century. Child abuse is much in the news these days -- and the accused are the he-men of the big time sports world. Funny thing about child abuse, in the 1800s it didn't officially exist. The first case was brought by the ASPCA. That's right, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The first case required an 11-year-old girl to be declared an animal for the court to hear the case.

Then child abuse kind of went away until an article in a respected medical journal in the 1960s declared it a disease. It was everywhere for a while, then it kind of went away again.

And now it is back with a vengeance. Priests and coaches have made it news this time. And, do not take me wrong, it should be. I just wish I wasn't here to witness it. I just wish I could have gotten in and out of this life without knowing such a thing existed. Without watching it endlessly crawl across the bottom of the television screen while I'm trying to lose myself in a basketball game.

Selfish, eh? I stand accused.

Well, it will be one of those days if I turn on a television or read a newspaper over somebody's shoulder or click on a newspaper Web page. Nothing but static. Stomach turning crawls, bright faced talkers bringing horrific news and all the brain killer static of modern life. The Republicans will be after Obama -- they remind us of our first and second wives who could find something objectionable in everything we did. And murders in bucolic Kansas City will be reported. Dead bodies discovered. Road rage pile ups. Some favorite food found unhealthy. Tony will be busting out the exclamation points and big healthy mostly uncovered breasts. Otherwise, meanness and stupidity will be everywhere.

Have a good day, sir. Would you like a bag for all that stuff?

--Lofflin, just a bit out of sorts. Be glad yours is not the next paper I grade...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Frank White story from I-70; Warning! Reading this will only make you madder...

“It was twenty years ago today

Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play…”

By John Lofflin
Published 9/31/10

It was 20 years ago yesterday Frank White last ranged across the dirt of a major league infield as the second baseman of the Kansas City Royals. You can imagine him, the consummate glovesmith, waiting on the first pitch from Kevin Appier to Luis Polonia, opening and closing the broad pocket of his light brown Rawlings mitt, silently thinking through the calculus of Polonia’s tendencies versus the grass and dirt between home and his cleats.

It was Sept. 30, 1990, and the Royals were finishing an unremarkable season in Anaheim, Calif. Appier had 11 wins against 8 loses and with a victory that California afternoon would finish the season 12 and 8, George Brett was hitting .328 when the game ended, and Bo Jackson broke a 1-1 tie on a 3-1 count in the bottom of the ninth with a pinch hit blast into the right field seats.

But Frank White was hitting just .216 that afternoon, last in John Wathan’s batting order. And, it was White who watched from the dugout while Bo Jackson walked to the plate in his stead with no outs in the ninth. Whether he knew it or not, this would be the last time Frank White’s name would be written anywhere in a major league lineup. But it would not be the last time he suited up, nor the last time he calculated the possibilities of bat, ball and infield dirt, even if he sat behind a microphone two decades later to do it.

Twenty-one years spent as a player on the field, counting three years in the minors, and 20 years as a major league coach, minor league manager and teacher-announcer. That’s a lifetime in baseball… and at the highest level.

It’s almost always a mistake to judge a ballplayer by his last game, even if Frank was the pivot man in two double-plays during that tense pitcher’s duel in California. The last game tells you little about an 18-year career. Every sixty-two year old softball player knows the feeling of coming to bat for the last time in late September praying for a crisp line drive double to take into the snowy nights, but grounding out instead. After all, Babe Ruth struck out in his last at-bat.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Frank White out, Royals bare hand another slow roller to third and throw the ball into the stands

Frank White is out as a home team broadcaster, according to the Kansas City Star this morning.

Just when you thought it was impossible for the brain trust to handle home town public relations worse, they manage to blow the lid off the curve.

Frank White was the ONLY reason to watch a Kansas City Royals broadcast. Why? Well, you might actually learn something about the game. Or, you might actually hear somebody in this tight-assed organization dare to criticize a player or management of this lousy ballclub. Denny Matthews wasn't afraid and neither was Frank. Denny usually communicated his feelings by the dead air he left after some homer comment from one of his sidekicks. Frank just came out and said it.

You had to love it when Frank, after watching another Sports Center inspired attempt at bare hand fielding, quietly asked why the fielder, or his sidekick, thought Mr. Rawlings made ball gloves. Of course, this was coming from a eight-time Gold Glove winner, so what would he know?

On second thought, the brain trust is right. Frank shouldn't be sitting up there in the broadcast booth. The fact is, Frank White should be sitting in the dugout next spring managing the competitive team the Royals are finally putting on the field. That's where he should be.


Sam Mellinger did a good piece this morning that will only make you madder.

What I'd like to see next, but won't, I'm only dreaming, is Frank White's next visit to Kauffman Stadium be in another uniform as the manager of a ball club he deserves. I'm with Frank White -- done with the Royals.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

But, can we sell that? Doing good in the world is not a lost concept, as two of my students have recently shown... fight the power!

Good news.

Well, good news to me, anyway. Two of my students made the news this week and they have something interesting in common.

Andria Enns was profiled in the Independence Examiner for her next adventure spreading the ideas of peace journalism in the world. I take no credit for this, by the way. She was inspired by my colleague Steven Youngblood to pursue this concept. He took her to Uganda a summer ago and, she says, changed her life.

I have to be honest here and admit I'm not completely comfortable with the principles of peace journalism. How can you not be comfortable with an effort for peace, you say? Well, that's the problem.

The catch is this: peace journalism is about suppressing the inflammatory language in reporting, language which can lead to violence and death. That's a huge simplification and doesn't do the principles justice but I'm going to spare you a long treatise at this point. The rub is I'm old school about journalism -- somebody said it, I report it. Somebody is angry, I report somebody is angry. A little passion is necessary in the world. People ought to be angry about injustice and war.

But I see the other side, too, how inflammatory language can actually cause injustice and war. And, I haven't always been in love with the way journalism is done in the world. That's why I became a teacher. You can hide behind the idea of objective journalism only so long before you realize doing journalism ought to do more than line the pockets of a few corporations.

More on this later. Back to Andria, who generally supports peace journalism in her travels by doing good in communities where a little good is badly needed. She doesn't sweat the principles; she gets dirty doing the work. I'm obviously proud to be her teacher.

My other student in the news is Anthony Hardwick. OK, Anthony graduated several years ago but, you know, when does my student stop being my student? I'm also proud of Anthony. He is the guy up in Omaha who had guts enough to start a petition drive against his own boss over the ridiculous practice of opening retail stores on Thanksgiving night, turning a family holiday celebrated by everyone -- a holiday with no religious barriers, and, also, no actual basis in history -- into just another marketing event.

Anthony gathered a stunning number of petitioners. He was featured in big articles and interviews everywhere, including the New York Times, which did a thoughtful profile on him.

If, after garnering this publicity, no public relations firm can see what a dynamo he is, well... nobody can get hired in public relations anymore. Who wouldn't want a guy who can singlehandedly launch a petition drive that gets him interviewed on CNN and MSNBC and into the pages of the New York Times? My guess is he won't be working two retail jobs much longer.

I was particularly proud of the way he presented himself and his ideas in those interviews. This man has something to offer the world. He can bring a little good to a world in bad need of good.

Which brings me, belatedly -- it is Sunday morning by the way and the only thing I have to do is snake a backed up drain... why hurry the writing -- to the point. Both of these students have decided to go out and do good in the world. Doing good in this world is no small choice.

A few years ago, the university decided to write itself a new mission statement. Don't get me started. But here's the interesting thing about the process. I proposed to the mammoth committee in charge of the writing that the mission statement conclude by saying our graduates would be committed to doing good in the world.

A hue and cry went up in the room. Folks shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Teeth gnashed. Suddenly the big screen where ideas were being typed froze. I knew immediately I'd stepped on a land mine. Who can define good!? One person's good is not another person's good? One culture's good is not another culture's good? It reminded me of the professor in Tom Wolfe's latest novel who always made air-quotes with his fingers when he said the word "god".

Here the offending word was "good".

Quickly, the committee suggested something better. The university would produce "graduates who are committed to their communities." That was my sentence without the phrases "doing good". It took the committee less than five frantic minutes to go from "...graduates who are committed to doing good in their communities" to "...graduates who are committed to their communities." I suggested that gang members are quite committed to their communities. At that point, the whole concept just erased itself from the big screen.

If an institution of higher learning cannot even commit to graduating students with the responsibility of doing good in their communities, who can?

Well, the graduates can. As Andria -- who hasn't even graduated yet -- and Anthony -- who has just begun doing what he will do in the world -- have shown, using a college education for doing good is not a lost concept. Not lost on some of our best students, anyway.


Monday, November 21, 2011

An excellent anecdote - and antidote - for starving writers

As I watch the Chiefs play (surprisingly) decent football against the New England Patriots, I am also reading a collection of boxing short stories by F.X. Toole. The collection, published in 2000 under the title "Rope Burns," but since then it's been re-named after its most famous short story: "Million Dollar Baby."

I haven't reached the well-known tale just yet, but I was intrigued by the introduction. Toole, a former boxer, trainer and corner man, for years worked to break into the writing biz. He accomplished it with this story collection in 2000, but sadly passed away just two years later. This is the best boxing fiction I've read outside of W.C. Heinz' classic "The Professional."

Here's a brilliant passage from the introduction comparing Toole's two passions, which should ring true to all you aspiring writers out there hoping to make money at it someday.

I started in the amateurs, took nights off from my job so I could work three-rounders in VFW halls, recreation centers, and the back rooms of spaghetti joints. Then four-rounders, and ten, and traveling around the world to work twelve-round title fights. I've worked seven title fights of one kind or another, and I've been licensed in ten states - from Hawaii to New York, from Missouri to Florida. There are plenty of guys who have done much more in boxing than I, but there are many who've done less. And I've fought in Mexico, France, Germany and South Africa - where, in Cape Town, by the way, they produce a champion Cabernet Sauvignon, Fleur de Cap, that will do wonders for your spirit.

About the only thing I haven't done in boxing is make money. It's the same for most fight guys. But that hasn't stopped me any more than not making money in writing has. Both are something you just do, and you feel grateful for being able to do them, even if both keep you broke, drive you crazy, and make you sick. Rational people don't think like that. But they don't have in their lives what I have in mine. Magic. The magic of going to wars I believe in. And the magic of boxing humor, the joke almost always on the teller, that marches with you every step of the way.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Joe Posnanski misses the mark on Joe Paterno -- hot house thinking is always suspect and vested interests cloud the vision of even great writers...

I really hate to do this, but I'm going to take Joe Posnanski to task.

Joe wrote a good column at Sport Illustrated after the Penn State child rape scandal broke, but it isn't good enough. I came to it through a couple of links -- the last in the Pitch -- and all along the way it is being hearlded as one of his best pieces of work. It isn't.

Posnanski is right on when he discusses how he wrote a bundle of columns in his early days about a football coach he thought was the best since sliced bread. He was shocked when the coach committed suicide. It was an awakening -- the sort many reporters have along the way.

As a reporter I came to the same conclusion: There are no all-good people and there are no all-bad people.

However, from this distance I detect something in his approach to this Penn State story that he should at least consider. He is, by the way, writing a book about Joe Paterno. He is even living in State College, Penn., to write it. And, near the end of his column, he seems strangely nuanced about his feelings when it comes to the subject of the book-to-be.

Why, you might ask, did the good people at Penn turn their backs -- literally -- on the 10-year-old in the shower and on the other uncounted victims? I don't think it would be unfair to suspect they had a vested interest in doing so. They were vested in the football program and in their legendary coach, and they made their ethical judgments with those concerns either front and center or hidden, but either way you can at least suspect those concerns were at the root of their decisions.

That's what happens when we make ethical decisions in the hot houses of our own minds. We twist and turn our excuses and justifications to provide the answer we wanted to hear in the first place. This is why presidents do things we can't imagine -- at some point they all come to believe the free world depends on their being president of the United States. So do their underlings. College presidents are not immune to hot house thinking either. Nor, their underlings. None of us are immune to it. Even very good writers.

With a book probably under contract and already a couple of months spent building the narrative and the sources while living at Penn State -- Joe Posnanski should probably step back and ask himself if he is also invested in this story in a way that might cloud his ethical thinking.

From all indications, there are no nuances to this story. That's my opinion, anyway. It seems logical to me that three things should happen: 1) Bo Pelini should be man enough, and care enough about the young people under his wing, that he not take his Nebraska football squad to State College to play football today. One of my students suggested this to me Thursday and he was right. The game started a few minutes ago, by the way, so you have your answer to number one. 2) Penn State should be courageous and sorry enough to simply cancel the rest of its season. And, since that game started a few minutes ago, you could conclude Penn State is simply sorry -- one sorry damned institution of higher learning. And, 3) Joe Posnanski should at least consider saying, well... this is just really not a bunch of people I want to invest a large chunk of my life writing about.

Unless, of course, he absolutely believes to his soul he can write the book with complete honesty. Only he knows if his editors and his publisher would accept his version of the truth or if they -- and he -- will be too vested to get it right.

-- Lofflin, feeling humble writing like this about the Great Posnanski...

And if you haven't read Greg Hall's piece, for god's sake, do. It is certainly miles ahead of this effort. Then, of course, as Hall points out, there is the question of the $750,000 advance.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perry's brain fart sinks the Titanic; The New York Times sinks the republic... Neil Postman laughs lustily from the grave

Rick Perry fell victim to a mind fart last night.

OMG, as my students are wont to say.

In the Republican debate he was asked what three agencies of government he had vowed to close. He could only name two. It was a disaster of Titanic proportion.

Hell, I've been there. I've walked into a few rooms and forgotten why I walked in. I've walked into a few classrooms lately and wondered why I walked in -- but that's another story.

Neil Postman is laughing this morning from the grave. I don't know how they keep his grave clean, in fact, given the number of times these days the ground shakes around it with belly laughs. We are -- without doubt -- becoming sillier by the minute.

The point Dr. Postman made about the complete dominance of show business on our culture and the destructive new epistemology of image it has fostered, is playing out everywhere you look today, but no more clearly than in the way the media cover presidential politics.

Perry's mind fart was THE news from the most recent effort of Republicans to choose a presidential contender. The New York Times played it right in the middle of their Web Site, just under Joe Paterno, above the fold, so to speak.

But you have to love the story itself. First, it included this wonderful comparison: "Mark McKinnon, an aide to former President George W. Bush, describing the moment as the “human equivalent of shuttle Challenger..."

Now, that's damned funny. Unless, I suppose, you are a family member of someone who died in the Challenger. In one of many stories to appear about Paterno, a reporter told us another media person alluded to the assassination of JFK for comparison to Paterno's firing.

But this is the best -- or worst -- part.

The Times "reporters" Jeff Zeleny And Ashley Parker don't tell the reader the third department until the 14th paragraph of their 1,500-word story, the paragraph just before the Web version goes to page two. In fact, in terms of usable voter information, they provide only one snippet on the first page of their big take: Perry apparently intends to close three federal departments -- Commerce, Education and ... well ... the Department of Energy.

As readers we are never made privy to why. No suggestion is made about what closing those agencies of the federal government would do -- good, bad, or neutral. At one critical juncture near the end of the story, they deign to tell us the Republicans presented a united front in favor of -- " less government intervention and more reliance on markets."

Are you telling me it took two big time reporters to write this story?!?

That's it. The total substance from 35 paragraphs, 1,527 words: Republicans favor less government and more markets and Rick Perry favors closing three government agencies. One last tidbit of valuable information nearer the end: the candidates are united in opposing intervention in the economic crisis in Greece and Italy. Imagine that.

I'm sorry, but from a voter's perspective, from the respective of a troubled republic, let alone a troubled Republican party, that story was bankrupt. The New York Times should be ashamed.

The Times offered this gem from Perry:

“This campaign is about ideas,” Mr. Perry said. “It’s not about who’s the slickest debater or whether anyone’s made a mistake or not...”

Who's he kidding? And, who is the Times kidding?


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

iJournalism or Civic and Citizen Journalism -- the name wars among academics continue in search of relevance and hipness...

This is the second time in two years and frankly I am bored to tears with it.

Not the World Series. This World Series repeated nothing from the past and was anything but borning.

I belong to the Civic and Citizen Journalism interest group in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication – the huge umbrella organization for academics who teach in communication departments and schools of journalism. And today, on the list-serve, the question of changing the interest group’s name has been in question.

Last year it was the Newspaper Division. I got way too invested in that discussion, which ultimately turned into a generational war, and – as I often do with horror movies – I had to turn it off. I created a separate e-mail folder for it, went there occasionally to check progress of the war and, unfortunately this is a reminder of the grinding war in Afganistan, forgot it was there.

In truth, I can’t tell you who won.

At Civic and Citizen Journalism, the suggestions for new names and the reason are familiar from the previous battle. My favorite suggestion so far is iJournalism, which signals either of two impulses:

1) We are enamored with the I, the self, the journalist enamored with herself, which is actually a live issue for incoming freshmen journalism majors, or

And, no, I am not so un-hip that I am unable to recognize the signature branding of Apple computers,

2) We are enamored with the technology.

Being enamored with the technology is like a flu germ that spreads through academic communication departments – without innoculation – from about fall break through the dreadful winter months, until nearly May. It affects both students and faculty, equally. It generally hits after the first midterms – perhaps in response to poor performance or simply to boredom, to the prospect of being cooped up together through the snow and cold – and continues unabated until the season of finals and portfolios and the prospect of summer arrives, when we become again more enamored with what work we have done and less enamored with what we did that work on.

I probably don’t belong in the Civic and Citizen Journalism interest group in the first place. I’m there because I was not hip to the inside jargon of academics, sharing my department as I do with only one other soul who is himself also not terribly hip to inside jargon, and, typically reading into the name what I wanted to read.

When I joined, my thought was this group would be about the reporter as citizen – as a member of the community not an objective observer outside (above) the community. As such, my thinking went, citizen journalists would respond more to their communities than the demands for blind objectivity by their editors or the demands for sexy, reader-grabbing stories by their publishers. Civic and citizen reporters, I thought, would see themselves as members of the community first and be guided by the notion of doing good in their communities.

What I was missing, of course, was the emphasis on citizen in the name. I’m learning through this debate that the word citizen means the armies of bloggers and Twitter feeders and practitioners of whatever technology comes next, who report like lone wolves on happenings in their communities.

I have a good deal of respect for those folks. With the folks who put out neighborhood association newsletters, they may be the last stand of local news reporting. I remember the “community correspondents” from my first newspaper post and how they supplied us daily with interesting reporting about who was in the hospital and who visited who for coffee. I had great respect for them then – they often produced the most readable and interesting copy in the newspaper – and I have great respect for them, and their digital kin, today.

While I find those modern legions politically interesting – even inspirational – it isn’t the interest group I signed up for. iJournalism is a much more honest name, and pretty hip at that, and if I’ve learned one thing in academia, it’s how desperately we want to be hip, lest we be left behind, like the ivy climbing up our building walls.


Tower of Power: "Sometimes hipness is what it ain't..." I cling to that lyric sometimes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Last images from the 1977 Royals - Yankees playoffs; the fans are part of the spectacle, and being a grandpa with tickets is obviously a very big deal

The 2011 playoffs are over so these are the last three images I've printed from the 1977 Royals vs. Yankees series. I shot this little guy over his grandpa's shoulder as they walked down the isle to their seats in the upper deck. In this image he is looking at me.

In the next instant, he looked at Grandpa. This is a look of pure adoration.

Do you suppose he remembers? After all, he is in his late 30s now -- pretty close to 40-years-old. I have no idea who he is, this far removed. But I wish I knew and I could ask if he remembers his grandpa and this big game in the big stadium.

If you want to know what baseball means in America you need only look at those two photographs.

And, just to end the set, here is the beer man. Notice the price of a brew at the stadium in 1977 and we thought that was outrageous.


Photographs: John Lofflin

Friday, October 14, 2011

How big and grand is baseball: A line drive to left, perhaps, off George Brett's young bat in 1977

I've always been intrigued by the sense of space in baseball. Visually, the expanse of grass and dirt seems to go on forever, especially if you're a hitter in a slump or an outfielder chasing down a ball in the gap. So, in 1977, I rambled up to the press box and shot a few frames looking down on the field. This is one of those images.

What I saw from there that I liked was the cool interplay of lines and circles. This game was played on carpet, not grass, which seems more obvious from this perspective. Look closely and you'll see it's George Brett at the plate, Thurman Munson catching and Greg Nettles at third -- all three plus the pitcher, in the throes of action-- the kind of orchestrated motion that composes a baseball game.

Looks to me like a line drive into left from Brett. If it is, this is probably Game Four, bottom of the fourth inning and this was a line out to Lou Piniella to end the inning. It is Sparky Lyle on the mound. The Royals scored two runs in the inning, battling back from a 5-0 deficit, though the effort proved futile.

I took my mother to a Royal's game a few years before she died. She was in her mid-80s at the time. She had watched a lot of baseball, from the wooden stands at Klamn Park to metal bleachers at Stony Point... and a lot on television after I discovered girls and got too old -- 17? -- to play. She followed the Diamondbacks when Randy Johnson was there and she followed Curt Shilling to Boston because his pitching motion reminded her of mine. You should always be a hero to your mother, if no one else.

We helped her down to her seat in the right field bleachers at Kauffman stadium and she was quiet for a while, just looking around. "John," she whispered in my ear, "It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be."

That put a tear in my eye. What she meant, I think, was that watching baseball on television all those years sort of put a little box around the game. But in person, well, it was expansive, beautifully so, and it was grand -- so much more grand than what you could see in your living room.

I sure wish I had taken her to the park more often.

Well, the Tigers are fighting back now. It's 9-4 in the fifth. For some reason I don't think this game is quite over. And I realize that even in high definition on a big screen television, the size of which my mother could not even have imagined, the game is smaller and less grand than it would be in person. I hope this image captures just a little bit of the size of the game.


Photograph/ John Lofflin

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Subjective journalism

Flipping through the channels, I landed on Larry Moore of KMBC 9 News talking about the 75th anniversary of Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. I didn't catch the full report, only the last few seconds, including this (paraphrased) wrap-up statement from Mr. Moore:

"Municipal Auditorium is, of course, one of the most famous buildings in America."

I'm not making that up. Really, Larry? One of the most famous buildings in America? That's a bit subjective, isn't it? In fact, I would venture to say it's not even one of the most famous buildings in America NAMED MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM. A Google search of the phrase finds references to Municipal Auditorium in Nashville higher than a link to the Kansas City facility, and slightly below that are links to Municipal Auditoriums in Shreveport, La., and freakin' Harlingen, Texas. Not that a Google search is an appropriate indicator of popularity, but it's sure as hell a better indicator than KMBC used.

And the fact that it's bad reporting doesn't even bother me too bad - every human listening to that broadcast, if they gave it a half-second of thought, would know the statement was bogus. But I'm offended by the laziness of the statement.

Just because you're on TV doesn't mean you can phone in your facts and make wildly subjective statements.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Another from 1977: The moment you knew the real Yankees had arrived and the Royals were doomed

This is another flawed negative. I remember clearly making a print of it in 1977, refocusing the enlarger, swearing, making another print, focusing the enlarger with the grain magnifier, making another print, swearing…

Royals’ first baseman John Mayberry apparently didn’t focus on this ball any better than I did. Even mighty, mighty, Photoshop couldn't save this one.

There are moments in games that break your heart. Not just fans, either. Some moments break a team’s heart, its spirit. That three run homer in the 11th tonight in Detroit may have been one of those moments. Thinking St. Louis, Game Six of the 1985 World Series is a perfect example. Game Seven was a foregone conclusion.

Well, in 1977, it seemed the young Royals might just beat those damned Yankees. They won Game One 7-2 in Yankee Stadium behind Paul Splittorff. They lost Game Two by nearly the reverse score – 6-2. A split at Yankee Stadium: Was it an omen? Had the Royals come of age?

Maybe. Just maybe. The Royals took Game Three by the reverse score – 6-2 – at Royal’s Stadium. One more victory… one more…

But Game Four was awful. The Yankees became the Yankees and the Royals became the A’s of the early 1960s. Farm team. Little brother. Poor relation.

And the moment you knew it was happening – the moment you knew in your heart the Royals would not go to the World Series in 1977, was the moment John Mayberry dropped this pop-up a few feet foul of the bag. It was the top of the fourth, Marty Pattin on the mound, Yankees ahead 4-2.

Willie Randolph reached on a throwing error by George Brett at third. I will never forget that error either, the first of two in the inning, because the ball took off like a rocket over Mayberry’s glove and ticked my vulnerable right ear as it sailed through the photo bay. I stood no chance because I was focused on Brett in a 300 mm lens and looking through such a lens you have no sense of distance. An inch to the left and it would have hit square in the middle of the lens and killed me. I have no doubt.

As I tried to catch my breath and summon courage to raise the camera to my eye again, Bucky Dent sacrificed Randolph to second. But Pattin induced Mickey Rivers to pop up. Whew! Two down. We’ll get out of this inning yet.

Not so fast. John Mayberry simply didn’t catch the ball and he would never have an easier chance. He should have caught it. He was there. He looked up, raised his glove and, unbelievably, the ball fell unmolested to the ground. My memory is his glove never touched the ball but this image is inconclusive.

In truth, it didn’t matter. Rivers grounded out to short on the next pitch. Greg Nettles singled Randolph home and the lead was three. The Yankees would have scored that run whether Mayberry caught the ball or not. The Yankees won 6-4.

But the moment Big John missed that pop-up was bigger than the scorebook says it was 34 years later. At that moment, standing in the photo bay no more than 20 feet from the play, it was impossible not to know the magic had been all used up. The real Yankees had returned and the pretenders would soon go fishing.

More to come...


Fuzzy photograph/ John Lofflin

Sunday, October 9, 2011

More photographs from the 1977 playoffs to commemorate the playoff season -- Here the un-decisive moment of an in-decisive hitter

I didn’t notch this negative in October 1977, so I probably didn’t print it. Probably I looked at it against a light bulb or on a contact sheet and said, “Shit, pulled the trigger too late.”

This is definitely not Henri Cartier-Bresson’s classic “decisive moment,” the invocation under which all photojournalists toil.

In fact, it is probably a classic un-decisive moment.

And, as a black and white photographic image, it isn’t flawed just because it is late. The subjects are not separated visually from the background by either light or focus. And, just look at the middle. There’s nothing in the middle but the ball, and the ball is traveling in the wrong direction. In fact, everything and everybody in the image is moving in precisely the wrong visual direction.

So, 34 years later, imagine the photographer’s surprise when he prints this image under yellow lights in the last black and white photo-lab on the planet and falls strangely in love with the result. This is the classic moment after. This flawed bit of Tri-X film, too-long camera lens -- these are the very edges of the frame --, and nano-second tardy photographer, captured an eloquent moment of success and failure in a very hard game.

Call it success by mistake.

What you see in this frame is the hitter who watched a third strike cross the plate, his head turned around backward staring at the umpire, his now useless club pointed to the ground; the umpire, back turned from him in theatrical pose – “yer out!” – finishing the call with flourish; the catcher, stepping toward first, already firing the offending ball to third base where it will travel around the horn; and the crowd joyous.

Even the beer man has turned in this moment -- mid-pour -- to watch.

This is probably the top of the second inning, Game Four, Oct. 8, 1977, Larry Gura pitching. If it is, the strikeout victim is Chris Chambliss. The catcher is Darrell Porter. The umpire is Marty Springstead. Chambliss was the second out, but the Yankees would go on to score two runs in the inning on a Willie Randolph single, a Bucky Dent double and a Mickey Rivers single. They would win this pivotal game 6-4.

Oh yes, in the background it looks like Thurman Munson is unloading a big, no doubt disgusting, load of Red Man. Therein lies one of the great -- if sometimes disgusting -- powers of the camera.

-- Lofflin

Next: "The Pop-up"

Photograph/ John Lofflin

PPS: Think about those Yankee names -- Willie, Bucky, Mickey. Baseball names all. Not, I hestitate to point out, soap opera names like Justin, Shane, Corey, Lance, Max, Zack, Taylor, or Brandon. But baseball names change with the times. Willie, Bucky, Mickey, feel like 1950s baseball names. Modern baseball names would include Prince, Miguel, Jhonny, Ramon, Jose, Tokashi. Add in the interesting Russian first names, perhaps tied to the Russian presence in Cuba and revolutionary Latin America -- Ivan, Yuniesky, Vladimir, Melky -- which is reportedly short for Mikhial --, Alexi. Interesting how names define the period of the game.

Nolan Ryan watches his Rangers win -- another righty from 1977 on the bump: Dennis Leonard

Dennis Leonard
in full stride in 1977. Love the mutton chops.

Pitchers work on a big stage in the middle of the theater. Nothing happens until they throw. They are part athlete, part actor, part magician. Good pitchers rule the bump -- the way K-Rod did last night despite having almost nothing to throw. The pitch in Dennis Leonard's hand at this moment looks like a two-seamer.

And if you think about fastball, you think about Nolan Ryan, the Express. What a moment last night when the television camera caught Nolan Ryan nervously watching his Rangers through the screen, in suit and tie, gripping and re-gripping fastball and curve on the baseball in his hand. It never goes away, does it?

Has anyone who ever stood at the top of the hill under all those eyes -- from the three decks of a major league ballpark to the single layer of wooden stands under tin roof, like Klamn Park or Heathwood Park in Kansas City -- ever forgotten the grip? Who among that little brotherhood of baseball pitchers isn't most comfortable with a baseball in his hand?

This was Game Five, Oct. 9, and Leonard took the loss. He had won Game Three 6-2, a masterful nine-inning two-hitter. Both Hal McRae and George Brett were 2 for 4, and Darrell Porter was 3 for 4 in Game Three. But in Game Five, despite McRae's 3 for 4 night, he lost in relief, replacing Steve Mingori in the ninth. The White Rat sent him out to the hill for the ninth on just 48 hours rest to protect a one run lead. He gave up a single and walk, left the game, and both runners scored after his departure. Damn Yankees. Heartbreaker.

More to come...


Photograph/ John Lofflin

Friday, October 7, 2011

From my dusty archives: more images from the 1977 playoffs on a big playoff night for the Brewers and Cards...

Doesn't seem like
the playoffs without the White Rat holding forth, does it?

The man looks like he was born under that ball cap, doesn't he? Especially in the late afternoon October sun... Afternoon sun in October has a special quality.

More 1977 Royals-Yankees playoff photographs to come...

By the way, did you notice the opposing shortstops, Brewers vs. Diamondbacks, were castoff infielders for the Royals last season?

And you know the networks are weeping tonight. No Phillies, no Yankees. At least they have Texas -- but in Texas, football is king by now. Prediction: Lowest television ratings ever; most hard-fought, most entertaining, league series games in recent memory.


Photograph/ John Lofflin

Monday, October 3, 2011

Some images of playoff games in Kansas City -- file under ancient,heartbreaking but wonderful history

With major league baseball playoffs
in full swing, I thought I'd go through my archives (boxes) looking for photographs I took of the classic heartbreaking Kansas City Royals -- New York Yankees playoff battles of the late 1970s. This image of Fred Patek laying down a bunt is from 1977, I think. Who can you identify on the Yankee bench in the background? Wonder if you can recognize anyone in the stands.

This was Game Five. Patek batted lead-off but went oh-for-five.

I'll post some others later this week.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tony Botello's low level of indignation shines a light on some of the absurdity of Kansas City priorities

Tony Botello, when he isn’t testing the boundaries of libel law or propriety, is the king of juxtaposition. His forte is a sort of critical thinking I wish we could teach more often.

In education, unfortunately, we’ve settled on a safe sort of critical thinking to teach – problem solving. Now, I’m not against problem solving, but what we really should teach is the ability Tony has shown to put two things together and – heaven forbid – compare them critically – with the emphasis on critically. Teach kids to take a stand. To call bullshit. To say something is unfair, wrong, needs to be changed, doesn't make sense.

Tony’s work is strongest when he does this. He seems to just naturally see the world this way. That’s the real skill here – seeing the world through this lens. I’m not sure how you teach people to see this way – it may be that life has to teach you to see through things with this lens.

Journalists are supposed to have a bullshit alarm. They’re supposed to possess a really low level of indignation. Supposed to…

Tony struck the sacred with a recent post. He noted the fear some people might be feeling about their safety at the Plaza Art Fair, given the disruptions a few weeks ago by kids with text machines in their hands (and at least one idiot with a gun). Sounds reasonable, eh?

Then Tony did a little genuine critical thinking. Of course, increased police presence would reassure art lovers their annual love fest on the Country Club Plaza would be safe from those people. But what about the safety of, say, a family living east of Troost, enjoying the evening on their front porch? Extra police in their neighborhood?

I'm not sure from reading if these are Tony Botello's words or the words of one of his "awesome" tipsters or the words of the author of the photograph he displayed, but they are words with a lot of power:

"Oh my god will the lily white folk at the plaza art show be safe this weekend with the extra security?? Meanwhile the over/under on young black men being killed this weekend on the east side is 3, and where's that extra security?..."

Now, I’m not sure that argument really holds up. My guess is the East Side already has extra police. A good journalist would check this out. So, Tony only took the argument halfway… BUT AT LEAST HE GOT THE IDEA ON THE MOVE, which may be more than you can say for the gaggle of columnists at the rest of Kansas City media.

A good reporter did find out the numbers. Alan McArthur at the K C Reporter found that each person in the Central Patrol Division is protected by more than two officers for each officer protecting a person in the North Patrol division. In other words, the police department stations one officer for every 320 residents in the 17 miles covered by the Central Patrol while in the 85-mile North Patrol Division the department deploys one officer for every 688 residents, more than double the force.

The department stations one officer for every 564 Metro division residents and one officer for every 474 East division residents, but only one for every 701 residents in the South division and one to protect every 764 residents in the Shoal Creek division.

So, in fact, the department DOES deploy a larger force on the East Side than in other portions of the metropolitan area. But perhaps Tony's argument is that the east side force could use a "surge" of troops given the guns and death there.

Yesterday, Tony Botello’s bullshit alarm went off again, and he landed this nice barrage of punches:

"In Kansas City we don't like making excuses for students caught in a failed school system.

"We don't want to make excuses for people trapped in the desperate circumstances of the urban core.

"We (rightfully) vow that not even women dressed like "sluts" deserve to have their appearance used as an excuse to justify assault.

"We don't like excuses from politicos about increased spending or so many other infrastructure issues that they've pathologically ignored.

"There are some people who still want to make excuses for The Kansas City Chiefs and their pathetic losing streak."

Add something to Mr. Botello’s argument. The fate of the Kansas City Chiefs, or Kansas City Not-So-Royals, isn’t in any league with the serious issues to which he compares them. The fate of any city’s sports teams pales in comparison to education, rape, and crumbling bridges.

But take a look at the list of “most read” stories in the Kansas City Star at 11:08 a.m. Monday morning. Talk about screwy priorities:

· 1. Will Missouri follow Texas A&M out of Big 12

· 2. Cassel’s quarterback play…

· 3. Chiefs lose…

· 4. Two Johnson County residents injured…

· 5. Fatal shooting at car wash…

· 6. Chiefs cling…

· 7. Kicker Succop struggles…

· 8. Royal’s Mendoza…

· 9. Chiefs blitz…

· 10. Olathe drowning victim…

This calls into question the critical thinking skills of Star readers, as well. As teachers, we’ve got our critical thinking work cut out for us, eh?


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moneyball interview with the real Billy Beane contains a reality shot for local baseball fans to ponder in otherwise baseball empty October(s)

Well, as long as I'm into quoting other people, here's some wisdom from an interview today in the New York Times about Billy Beane. Of course, the interview is about the release of "Moneyball" to theaters nationwide. But this is not Beane talking. These are Adam Sternbergh's thoughts, and they make great sense in the conversation we've been having here the past couple of weeks.

Never fear, I'm not out of ideas. Or lazy. I've got some things cooking in the old noodle for later. But ponder this in the meantime:

.... "A five-year dry spell actually places the A’s among the more fortunate have-not franchises in baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays have not made the playoffs since 1993. The Pittsburgh Pirates have not made the playoffs since 1992. The Kansas City Royals have not made the playoffs since 1985.

"Each year, a small-market team with a midrange payroll, like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Tampa Bay Rays, does make the playoffs, usually thanks to a few canny personnel moves, the judicious allocation of limited funds and, most crucially, a stockpile of young talent, collected through high draft picks that are a result of years and years of being absolutely terrible. Such a team has a few seasons to compete with the big boys — the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, primarily — before its young talent matures and bolts for big money, offered up by the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, primarily.

"These occasional breakthroughs by midmarket teams allow those who defend the inherent competitive imbalance in baseball to point and say: “See? It’s not impossible.” Conversely, when a free-spending team like the Los Angeles Angels does not make the playoffs, those same people can say: “See? Money doesn’t guarantee wins.” (These people are, more often than not, Yankees fans.) ...."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Star writer's glass half-full; mine half-empty... prune juice in mine, Boulevard Beer in his

Interesting how two similar ideas can result in completely different arguments. Here is a classic example of the half-empty / half-full glass of water. I hate to be the half-empty glass. This piece about the "new look Royals" by Rustin Dodd from today's Kansas City Star follows the same contours as my more depressing (more realistic?) post Sept. 18, but with a positive spin... to say the least.

As the Royals wind down a season of transition and prepare to enter the offseason, those are the shadows of doubt that follow the franchise.

The Royals are 30-30 since July 19, a steady infusion of youth providing a lift in the season’s second half. But the club has also clinched its 16th losing season in 17 years.

Ratings for Royals telecasts on Fox Sports Kansas City are up 31 percent over last season, including a 65 percent bump in August, according to Nielsen Media Research. But the franchise is still on pace for 90 losses, the 10th time it would reach that mark since 1999.

Attendance at Kauffman Stadium improved over the last two months — the Royals drew 23,980 per game in August and September while averaging 21,289 for the year — even as Kansas City fans were finishing up their 26th straight season without playoff baseball, the longest active drought for a single city in the majors.

“They’ve been waiting a long time,” manager Ned Yost conceded.

Now, the Royals enter their final road trip of the season with a 12-7 record in September, and the numbers suggest that they may have tapped into a fresh source of energy — on and off the field.

Rookies Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez are hitting. Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur are finishing up breakout seasons. And some of Billy Butler’s doubles are finally flying out of the ballpark.

There are still questions.

A few questions, maybe. Like, what the hell are the "new look" Royals? I think everyone who has followed the Royals knows, by heart, the look of rebuilding. The question is, what year are the Royals rebuilding from? 1985?


For a more sober look at this, try this post from Kings of Kauffman: