Monday, January 31, 2011

No Frank White?: The Kansas City Royals have neither dollars nor sense

I can't say this loudly enough.

How in the world can the Royals cut Frank White's salary and boot him out of their fold?

This is a perfect example of the organization's complete lack of history. In the first place, he should be in the dugout. Any organization with any sense would have a man of his stature and talent in the dugout. He is a proven teacher and a proven manager.

The only reason he is not in the dugout is because he is a threat to anyone else who manages this club.

But if the brass and the parade of managers are too cowardly to put Frank White in the dugout, he should be somewhere in the fold -- no matter how much it takes in dollars and sense to keep him there.

My goodness, there is a statue of him at the stadium. But no him. How can this be?

--Lofflin, with smoke coming out of my ears...

Photo credit: shpckzilla

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fortune cookie perspective

On January 1, I started a new blog called My Daily Fortune. Basically, what I'm doing is opening one fortune cookie every day in 2011 and following whatever that fortune tells me to do.

The blog has been a lot of fun. But I'd like to take the opportunity here, on the good ol' Henry Wiggen Blog, to step back and get some perspective on the experience so far. When I'm following the fortunes, sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Fortunately, I've been getting a little bit of attention from local media outlets about the blog, which has been kind of crazy for me. For 10 years, I was on the other side, writing stories about other people. Being the subject of news stories has been eye-opening.

And I wonder if I made people feel as uncomfortable as I feel in the spotlight.

I will say that I was a newspaper journalist for my entire career, and the newspaper interview I did for My Daily Fortune was both the easiest and the most in-depth.

The TV interviews, on the other hand - those were a trip.

Channel 41 was the first to do a story. They invited me to their studio to be on the morning show. I was there about an hour and a half, and it's pretty interesting to see how much work goes into a two-minute live TV clip. All sorts of planning goes into it. The cameras have to be positioned right, the timing has to be perfect, the lighting has to be just so. You don't really worry about that too much in the newspaper world; yes, you have deadlines, but it's not nearly as intense as live television.

What surprised me the most was how much research news anchor Amy Hawley had done for the two-minute segment. She knew everything about the blog, and she was prepared to ask me a lot more questions than she had time for. I guess that's necessary: what if I had frozen up? What if I was only able to give one-word answers? If that happened, that two minutes becomes a lot longer for her.

The interview with Channel 4 was much different. They came to my house, which was a bit invasive, but mostly because I had to clean. The Channel 4 folks, while very nice, were also quite demanding.

That interview was also picked up by Fox News. Which was funny, because the news station that prides itself in being fair and balanced got a lot of the facts wrong. Not to say I don't appreciate the coverage; I really, really do, and the errors they made did nothing to take away from the blog. They called me a "Missouri man" (I live in Kansas) and they proclaimed that I was down on my luck and had no other choice but to put all of my faith in fortune cookies. That's not exactly the case.

But the news coverage has been - pardon the pun - a real fortune. I've got nearly 100 followers on Facebook, and I'm getting lots of hits on the blog. I had no idea whether it would take off or not, but so far it really has. Since this is sort of a "New Year's resolution" type story, the media attention may wane soon, but hopefully I can keep the ball rolling and make this thing popular nationwide by the end of the year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

J-school flashback

Have you heard the personal stories about the victims of the Arizona shooting? They're heartbreaking. The little girl, born on Sept. 11, 2001, who wanted to do something important with her life by helping others. The judge who had just come from Mass.

The elderly man who died protecting his wife.

That last one gets me.

John's poignant piece of a few days ago should stand as a lesson to all journalism students, writers and broadcasters: You each have the power, granted by the Constitution, to say or write pretty much anything you damn well want.

But that doesn't mean you should.

Restraint can often be a journalist's most valuable tool.

On a similar note, I was speaking to a journalist friend today and I was reminded of another memory from my time under John's tutelage in the journalism program at Park University. This one's a little more light-hearted.

My friend was saying he was having difficulty reading his notes from an interview that he conducted a few days ago. It reminded me of a lesson, probably from the first journalism class I ever took with John: when you're done with an interview, always go home or go back to the office and type out your notes while the interview is still fresh in your mind.

I told my friend that after that lesson, I worked very hard to do exactly that - for a few days. Then I decided it took too much time, and I said, "Screw it! I don't need to do this anymore." Sorry, John.

My friend said almost the same thing happened to him.

But listen up, kids: I sure wish I would have kept typing up my notes. My articles would have been significantly better for it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Guns don't kill people; words kill people... Time to tone down the rhetoric for the sake of the republic

The purpose her
is not to make a long, drawn out, statement about the killings yesterday in Tuscon. My guess is by the end of next week we will have heard every word there is to say about it from both the left and the right -- and the middle. The hand-wringing has already begun.

It should be gut wrenching not hand wringing.

A time will come to talk about this in class. Nearly every semester, usually as the work winds down, I introduce the idea that our metaphors shape our actions. Lakoff and Johnson are eloquent on the metaphors we live by. Time is money. Argument is war. The effects of these ideas seem quite intuitive.

This, then, is a good time to confront another metaphor. Politics is war. We've been living by this metaphor since the early 1960s. Sometimes the idea has been benign. Sometimes across that half-century the idea has been dominant in politics. Whether this gunman was stirred yesterday to horrific and cowardly action by this metaphor will be anybody's (and everybody's) guess. No one, however, can deny the idea of politics as war has driven and riven our politics the past two years.

For those who write about politics, this idea is a natural. You're on deadline, looking around the spaces of your brain for a metaphor and the phrase "trench battle" comes to mind. Or "quagmire." Or the idea that a position has been destroyed or defended. Or the idea that the candidate is fighting a rear guard action. Or, finally (to cheers) going on the offensive. Then the idea of war gets muddled up with the idea of sports and you have candidates for office who are delivering knock-out punches. I love the sequence from Dan Rather and Bob Scheffer describing Bush I as "a get-up fighter"... "A guy who gets up when he gets knocked down and knocks the other guy down."

An old study once showed 75 percent of all political metaphors to be drawn from either sports or war. With more women reporters, those proportions will, I hope, have changed.

But in this silly season, my guess is they haven't changed much. And, as many have noted, and will note, the ante is at a fever level. We aren't just fighting for good policies these days; the talking heads would have us believe we are fighting for our lives and the lives of our children, for our very way of life, for our beloved country and our un-loved planet.

When you raise the stakes that high, you are invoking the stakes of war. Disagreement is treason. The end is near. No action is too extreme to be considered in such a world.

It's time to ratchet this crap down.

I've been thinking about writing something on this called "Words Kill." Words may not have killed in Tuscon, but we are certainly creating the climate for them to kill elsewhere. The lie to this is that politics is more important than sports and less desperate than war. The essence of politics is compromise and consensus building. Of course, neither compromise nor consensus building make good television or energize the base.

Words do matter. They aren't just the way to sell a car or a newscast. They have very real consequences -- sooner or later.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Lure of the ball field... is it lost on the modern player? An inviting conundrum from Jane Leavy's new biography of the Mick

With a captive audience in the car this morning, I attempted to re-tell a story to my wife that I'd read in Jane Leavy's fine -- but somehow depressing -- new book on Mickey Mantle. Why do I even try to tell her these baseball stories I think are so funny? Might as well ask why I drink coffee in the morning.

The story is about Mickey Mantle and Irv Noren on the final day of the 1954 season when the Yankees' final game was meaningless. It had been the first meaningless game Mantle had ever played as a Yankee. The Yanks had won enough games to be champions any other year -- 103 -- but this year the Cleveland Indians had been spectacular winning 111. Mantle had actually played shortstop in the last game and despite Casey Stengel's fears, no paying customers had been killed behind first base.

To be sure, it had been another gruelling campaign for both players. Mantle's knees had betrayed him often and his trademark grimmace had been evident since spring training; as Leavy so well points out, he was a boy who played a game he loved in constant pain. Stengle had been in his face the night before for not running out a ground ball and loafing in center, which, in retrospect, seems particularly cruel.
Mantle finished the season right at .300. Noren finished at .319.

After the last inning of the season Noren, who planned to drive home to California, offered Mantle a ride down Route 66 in his new Chevy. They threw their bags in the car -- Leavy says Mick couldn't wait to get out of town -- made a few nightclub appearances, then headed west stopping only to eat and to stretch their sore outfielder legs.

But somewhere along America's signature highway, they spotted a ball field with a gaggle of boys on it. Now, these guys had been playing baseball at the highest level since spring training, seven months of baseball, for Mantle most of it in pain. But neither could resist. They pulled up, got some bats and balls out of the trunk, and -- in street clothes -- walked out on the field.

This is the crucial part of the story for me. Why? What is the lure? What could lure two grown men who have played baseball every damned day for seven months in the biggest arenas in the country to stop the car and get out in the middle of nowhere to play some more? Noren had just finished playing 125 games with 480 plate appearances. Mantle had ground out 146 games that season and dug into the batter's box 651 times. When I say "ground out" I mean it. X-rays showed his right knee bone on bone.

I'm indebted to Leavy for leaving me this wonderful conundrum. Why did they feel the need to walk on a ballfield one more time before they got home for the winter?

They get out of the car and Noren tells the boys he wants to see if he can strike this guy out. He sends them back about 400 feet to shag and he starts throwing to Mickey. Eventually, Mickey smashes one over the boys, over a house and over the trees. When the boys show up with the ball 10 minutes later, one of them says something like, "Guess you can't strike him out." And Noren says, well no, because, you see, this here is Mickey Mantle.

When they get back in the car and on down the road, Noven says can you imagine when they get home and tell their dad Mickey Mantle pulled up at the ball field today and hit a ball over that house and those trees in left field.

To which Mickey replies, Yeah, and their father says, "I thought I told you never to lie."

OK, I got a kick out of that. But my wife was stoic. I glanced over. She WAS listening. Like a fool I say, "Get it?" and start repeating what the father must have said.

"You need that Oklahoma drawl to make it funny," she says.

Maybe so. I can do Kansas hick pretty darn good but I don't have Oklahoma drawl down just yet. I can hear it; I just can't do it.

But my wife is brilliant. She came back with the question of the century.

"Would that happen today?" she asked.

I thought about it a moment. No, I said.

But the question is, why? I mean, my buddies and I never get enough. We're in our 60s for god's sake and we took batting practice on the next to last day in December. We've hit when the temperature was 14 degrees. We've played quadraheaders when the temperature was approaching 100 degrees. But would a modern ballplayer be lured by a sandlot full of kids on his way home from a gruelling season? Not very likely.

"Why not?" I wondered aloud.

"Because those guys hadn't yet seen themselves as commodities," she said.

Amen. Chew on that a while.

Irv Noren baseball card by Topps on Baseball Almanac