Real Journalism

It is becoming increasingly important to separate the mainstream media from hard-working journalists. I have utter contempt for the former and great admiration for the latter. In fact, I have a deep and abiding love for one of the latter: Our younger daughter Sarah happens to be the Night Side reporter for ABC 27 in Harrisburg, PA. It’s not just a father’s pride that makes me say she is hard-working. More than once she has called to ask about using the exact right word. She has shed tears over the tragedies, large and small, that she has had to cover. She endeavors to get the story right, rather than angling to get the “right” story. In covering certain political rallies, however, she has had to endure the wrath of the crowd that sees her as simply another member of the media.

I see her and her friends and her colleagues at small and mid-market stations everywhere as the saviors of journalism because they are setting the proper example for the media “stars.” The real journalists in this country still follow the facts wherever they lead, and they doubt every story and every source until the story and the source are verified. That is a quality not only lacking in the national news, it is no longer even a value. If members of the profession such as Sarah don’t save journalism, it won’t be saved.

My favorite journalist.

There is nothing glamorous about covering the local school board meeting, or lugging around your camera when it’s 98 degrees only to have your shot ruined by a truck roaring past, or interviewing a surly person who doesn’t want to talk. Or having all that happen in one story and still have it written and edited for the 11 o’clock edition. It’s important for the rest of us to remember that when it’s done right it’s a dirty job. To you highly-paid blowhards on national television who think you are the story, pay attention to your local field reporters and learn how journalism is done correctly.

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Crashing Into Destiny

During an American Legion baseball game back in 1933, in Gastonia, North Carolina, a 14-year old shortstop named Lawrence Davis was chasing down a pop fly into left field. Then known as “Squeaky” because his infield chatter always ended with a rising, almost falsetto tone, Davis collided with the left fielder. It was a hard collision and “Squeaky” immediately became “Dynamite.” While Dynamite Davis makes for wonderful alliteration, “Dynamite” quickly transformed into “Crash.”

Yes, there really was a Crash Davis, just like in the movie, Bull Durham. When he reached age 18, Davis entered Duke University. Playing semi-pro ball after his freshman year, he caught the eye of Connie Mack, the owner/manager of the Philadelphia A’s, and the team picked up his tuition for his sophomore year. Davis made his major league debut that summer, in 1940. (Against future Hall of Famer, Bob Feller. He popped out.)

Davis served in the U. S. Navy and played on the Norfolk Naval Air Station baseball team; that was his official duty. Teammates included Pee Wee Reese and Dom DiMaggio. He was then assigned to Harvard University in 1944 where he served as the Officer of the Day for the ROTC program and one of his cadets was Bobby Kennedy.

As with so many other young men who served in the military, his baseball skills had deteriorated just enough that he was no longer major league material, and he was cut by the A’s in Spring Training, 1946. Playing minor league ball in New England for a couple of seasons, he returned to North Carolina, where he played for the Durham Bulls in 1948 and set a then league record with 50 doubles. Davis played in the minors through 1951 before retiring.

Gregarious and intelligent, he coached baseball and worked in personnel for Burlington Industries, destined to be a local legend with a major league pedigree. One day, however, Davis got a call from an unknown movie maker named Ron Shelton who had been thumbing through a Carolina League record book and came across the perfect name for the main character of a movie he wanted to film. Permission was quickly granted.

Crash Davis

That’s how Kevin Costner became “Crash Davis.” Not surprisingly, Shelton and Davis developed a friendship that would last until the latter’s death in 2001.

I came across the real Crash Davis because his player card is included in the A’s team set for my 1941 Strat-O-Matic game. Naturally, that was a name that I had to look up, and in doing so, I discovered a remarkable story and a remarkable man. Everyone has a story, and Mr. Davis tells his in a couple of interviews which can be accessed here. If you enjoy baseball stories from the old-days or if you enjoy good story-tellers, then I highly recommend clicking on that link.

Funny how Destiny may be dramatic and even world-changing—think December 7, 1941—or it can be as simple as a pop fly into left field.

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Pandemic Reveals a Truth Ignored

The current pandemic is revealing a fundamental principal of life, one which we often pretend does not exist: Life is uncertain. Inherent in, if not synonymous with the idea that Life is uncertain, is fear of the Unknown. Fear is a powerful tool whether trying to sell dandruff shampoo or persuading one to exchange liberty for security.

Our technology, which has kept us alive and functioning beyond what anyone could imagine 63 years ago (i.e. when I was born), combined with our innate hubris, has even led us to react with indignity at Life’s most certain prospect, which is to say death. We constantly try to negate this fundamental truth. If we compare our sense of uncertainty to a hole, we have tried to fill it with money, fame, cars, conquests, power, and entertainment. That hole of uncertainty that is inside society’s soul cannot, however, be filled for the very practical reason that it is bottomless. Life is uncertain.

Now, this pandemic has swept in and reminded us that people die. Randomly. I could be next.

Or you.

Back in the day (i.e. when I was born) it seems that everyone knew someone or had a family member who owned a farm. Death is all around on a farm, and we accepted it then as part of Life. Back then, if you were served a Sunday dinner of fried chicken while visiting the farm, you can be sure that someone had chased down dinner and chopped its head off right there behind the kitchen. Going back 100 years, people died suddenly from infections, accidents, undetected health issues. There were no antibiotics, trauma centers, CAT-scans. We accepted death because we had no choice. Everyone knew that Life was uncertain.

We still have no choice. We wear ourselves out and frustrate ourselves pretending that we do. We howl at the moon and sue the hospitals and attending physicians because we want to blame somebody rather than accept that people die. Right now many are telling themselves that “things” will be okay when a treatment for Covid-19 is developed or we develop a vaccine or the virus simply burns itself out. But what if there is no treatment or no vaccine? What if it doesn’t burn itself out? Medicine can’t fill that hole, either. Life is uncertain.

Until we decide, each one of us for ourselves, that we are going to step out of our houses, go back to school, go back to work, and face the uncertainty, we are going to be captives of the fear that has permeated parts our society. There are no guarantees, and there will never be any guarantees concerning Covid-19. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. There are no guarantees that you won’t slip in the shower tomorrow and break your neck. There are no guarantees that one of the asteroids flying through our solar system on a regular basis will miss us, and if one say, a mile across, should collide with Earth, it would destroy civilization as we know it. Life is uncertain.

Face the uncertainty of the day. You can do it with a mask and 6 feet away from anyone else if you choose, but sooner or later, you are going to have to face the current uncertainty and the fear that goes with it, and the fear that has been injected into it. Money, power, vaccines, fame, medicine, glamor, none of it will render you less fearful. You can’t fill the hole.

You have to bridge it with Faith.

I’m not going to tell you what to have faith in, so long as it brings you to the idea that Life is Good and you will face what the Universe throws at you without question and with as much grace as you can muster. Understand this as well: At some point, hopefully, after a long and happy life, you will fall into that hole of Uncertainty, immediately reaching the level of the Unknown. That much of Life is certain. Embrace it. But there are no guarantees. “At some point” may be tomorrow; don’t waste today on fear.

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Orioles Win the 1971 Strat-O-Matic Tournament!

If you read my previous blog entry, then you know that I have created a “calm time” in my day by setting up a tournament with my old Strat-O-Matic baseball game, which features the American League teams from 1971. I am happy to say that the Baltimore Orioles, my team since 1964, won the tournament by defeating the Boston Red Sox in 7 games. The Birds had a 3 games to 1 lead, and then lost 2 straight, and yes–I would have been upset if they had lost that 7th game. They’re my team whether they are real players on a diamond, or stat cards on a table in my basement. (For the record, no shenanigans were employed to insure the outcome.)

The tournament took 44 games to complete, and I kept statistics on every team, compiled the league stats and individual leaders, and named an all-star team and a Most Valuable Player. (Actually, Ray Culp and Frank Robinson were co-MVPs. And all of this information is available upon request.)

I feared having more quarantine than tournament games, which has turned out to be the case, so as I suggested in that last post, I ordered the player cards from both leagues for the 1941 season. It’s been a great deal of fun sorting through those players. I found Boots Poffenberger’s catcher from his days in the Marine Corps, i.e. Gene Desautels as well as two players–Cliff Melton and Don Heffner–whom my mother had major crushes on when she was a girl and those two gentlemen played for the Orioles when they were a minor league team. There was also a pitcher for Cleveland named Al Smith, and regular readers of this blog will understand the significance of that.

So, in the next day or two, I will begin managing Ted Williams the year he hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio the year he hit in 56 straight games, and Pete Reiser before he crippled himself by repeatedly running into walls, and Mel Ott hitting in the Polo Grounds (yes, the new and improved Strat-O-Matic includes a “ballpark effects” chart) and Bob Feller and a bunch of guys you never heard of, but who played major league baseball and they have the Strat-O-Matic cards to prove it.

Of course, if I complete this tournament before the quarantine is lifted . . . Well, we just won’t think about that.

Ted Williams’ on-base percentage was a mind-boggling .553 in 1941, which is 3rd all-time.

 

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Maintaining My Sanity Through Strat-O-Matic Baseball

Early in this lock down, I realized that I needed more than mere distractions, such as movies and books. I needed to create my own little world, a safe place to which I could go, and thanks to the fact that I still have my 1972 Strat-O-Matic baseball game, complete with every American League team, I have done so. Each afternoon or evening, I head to the ballpark, er, my basement and play one game in the 1971 A. L. Championship Tournament. (I got the game in 1972 when I was 15, but that means the numbers on the player cards are from 1971.) I keep the statistics for each team, and send out game summaries to a select group of baseball junkies. This helps make my baseball world even more real. (Message me if you want to be added to the list. It will give you something to talk about.)

Boston is playing the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox are playing the Baltimore Orioles in the semi-finals, just so you know. The Yankees scored the biggest upset so far, by knocking the actual West Division champion Oakland A’s out of the tournament.

I began to worry, however, that I will run out of tournament before I run out of lock down, but then I discovered that the Strat-O-Matic Company has produced player cards for past seasons, and I’m beginning to think that I’ll need to purchase a set from another year, run another tournament, and pit that winner against my 1971 Champions. The dilemma is, what year? 1966, the year the Orioles won it all? But what if they lose in my basement? 1964, the year I first began following the game? Maybe I could get the first Orioles team that I ever followed (I was 7) past the Yankees. They almost won it that year anyway. Or 1957, the year I was born? And then there is 1941, the year DiMaggio hit in 56 straight and Ted Williams hit .406. Of course, if I got the 1941 set, I might have to play the entire 154 game season, at least in the American League just to see if Ted can hit that well in my basement. Let’s see 154 games times 8 teams equals . . . way more games than I better have time to play during this lock down because if it lasts much longer I’m going to take up the hobby of rioting.

What are you doing to maintain balance in your life?

Player cards from 1971. The game is very detailed statistically, yet my average time of game is around 25 minutes. And yes, I keep track of the time of game.

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Gunfight at the O. K. Corral and Gone With the Wind Have a Connection

I don’t know about flattening this virus curve, but I have been working hard at flattening my own emotional curve, which seems to rise and fall within minutes on some days. A good book helps me, as I’m sure it does you. Having been raised on Westerns, I am very happy to be reading Allen Barra’s Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends. A thoroughly researched biography, this volume also compares the facts to the legends, whether those legends appeared in print or in the movies.

I have enjoyed every page, and was sorry to come to the end of this story. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, because I highly recommend it, but I will share two items that I found most interesting.

First, the real Wyatt Earp was calmer, cooler, tougher, and more fearless than any cinema lawman who has ever been imagined by novelist or script writer. In his testimony regarding the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt stated that he saw Billy Clanton draw his pistol and that they began the fight by firing almost simultaneously. “He was shooting at me, and I shooting at Frank McLaury. I knew that Frank McLaury had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerous man, and I aimed at Frank McLaury.” Ignoring the man who is shooting at you, because you have calculated that you need to fire at someone else is coolness under fire and then some.

Second—and here’s the answer to the teaser title of this piece—it turns out that Doc Holliday corresponded with a cousin of his, one Mary Melanie Holliday, who lived back in their home state of Georgia. Doc was quite well-educated and the cousins seemed to have a certain affection for one another. Mary eventually entered a convent where she was known as “Sister Melanie” including by one Margaret Mitchell, “who made her the model for Melanie in Gone With the Wind.”

Who would ever imagine that there was a direct connection between the saintly Melanie Wilkes and the . . . less than saintly John “Doc” Holliday?

If you’re a fan of Western history OR you enjoy stories that relate how things came to be, or in this case, how and why the most famous lawman in Western history came to be so famous, then read Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends.

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Angry Buddha

In my last entry, I called for all of us to be a Buddha in the face of this Chinese flu pandemic, part of which means to accept what we cannot change. Implied in that idea is the notion that we should be alert to things that we can change, and to do what we can to change them. I’m finding it impossible to keep up with the news on this subject and to adjust my emotions accordingly  and so, I will address just one subject in an attempt to influence my little corner of the blogosphere: Politicians who portray themselves as benefactors of the people by handing out money that was ours to start with should be quarantined from office.

There is no doubt that many, many people need some kind of financial assistance in the current situation, but here’s a good idea, not that it’s original to me: Instead of taking my money in and then handing it back to me, how about you STOP TAKING MY MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE? Let’s place a moratorium on collecting any taxes at all until 30 days past the date when the current emergency is declared to be over. If ever the local, state, and federal governments had an incentive to find a cure for this pandemic, that policy would surely provide one.

As it is, these elected potentates have no clue, and what’s worse, no plan to pay for the several trillion dollars in aid that they plan on distributing. Which means that the federal government is just going to print more money. Which means that the dollar you get back under the guise of their beneficence isn’t going to be worth the dollar you put in.

Ironically, part of a plan to pay for the recovery has already presented itself: If public schools and universities can carry on in a virtual classroom now, why not all the time? Ask any educrat, “What is the optimal per pupil spending figure that insures a good education?” and the answer in all 50 states is always, “More.” What the citizens have received for their investment of tax dollars are high schools that look like shopping malls, stacks of unnecessary or useless text books, and graduates who can’t make change. Even now, school systems are saving on electric, water, and fuel bills. There is a great deal more tax money to be saved—and directed toward the recovery—by overhauling our entire public educational system.

This pandemic has dramatically altered our way of living, but we should look at it as an opportunity. Let’s pay attention to what we do in this situation and how we do it in an effort, when this is all over, to deliver goods and services (including and especially education) more efficiently, to make our economy more stable and even more robust, and to make our nation more secure and self-sufficient. If we do these things while we are saving lives, then we can truly declare a grand victory. If we return to the way we have always done things we will have wasted a golden opportunity to improve our society.

The Buddha would not like that.

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Be a Buddha

The current pandemic may be just the opportunity we so desperately need to sit beneath the Bodhi tree and regain that spirituality with which we were born.

Whatever words you use, hymns you sing, scripture you quote, or theology you follow, there are two great Spiritual Truths endemic to humanity that we need to, not only recognize once more, but embrace fully. They should become mantras for modern man:

I control nothing but myself.

There is Something out there greater than I am.

You do not control the corona virus or how it is presented in the news. You cannot prevent it from mutating. You cannot make your neighbor wash his or her hands. You cannot worry this virus into submission. It has no will for you to bend. It is not sympathetic to your anxiety or your schedule or even your ability to make ends meet. Neither is it doing this to you on purpose. It is neutral, indeed, oblivious to human feelings and endeavors. This will come as a shock to the vast numbers of people who expect their feelings to be considered by everyone and everything. If you’re anxious, it is because you choose to be anxious. The virus didn’t “make” you be that way. If you’re worried, you choose to worry. You control only you.

I know that it is hard not to be anxious and not to worry, but these are bad emotional/spiritual habits, and the more you practice resisting these twin temptations, the stronger you will be. You will relax. A calmness in your core will start to grow. . . .

You are not the pinnacle of Creation. You are special because the Universe did conspire to create you, but It did not name you the Boss of Everything. After all, we may have no other purpose than to house the million microbes that are swimming around in us, corona virus being just the latest. Call it God, Humanity, the Cosmos, Tao—there is Something that is greater than you. Recognize this fact. Embrace it. Submit to it. The more you paddle against the Cosmic Flow, the more frustrated—and exhausted—you will become.

Celebrate it. The Universe doesn’t need you to navigate this Grand Trip on which we find ourselves. It’s a Trip taken on a raft more so than a canoe, so quit paddling. Just try to maintain a steady keel. It doesn’t need you, but for some reason, It invited you along, anyway. No guarantees on the difficulty of the rapids or where you’ll ultimately land, but enjoy the ride. Every day. Virus or no virus; quarantine or no quarantine.

Do what you can to make the journey pleasant for your fellow passengers. You can control that.

You will not solve the medical crisis nor will you dictate policy. You can build that calmness at your core, which will naturally emanate to the others on your raft. The gloom and anxiety we feel over this pandemic is palpable. So too are individual acts of kindness and thoughtfulness and calmness. That’s palpable, too.

Be a Buddha.

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The Hope of the Summer to Come

If you’re a baseball fan, Spring Training is one of the grand times of the year, maybe even the grandest. Hope grows in the warm Florida (or Arizona) sun and it becomes easy to construct scenarios by which even your bad team might just pull off a miracle. After all, you just boarded a jet that had been sitting on a frosty runway and two hours later you land in bright warm (or at least warmer) sunshine. That is a miracle to me, so I’m primed to conjure another one by the time I arrive at the ballpark.

Ah, the Spring Training ballpark: Small, intimate, minor-league affairs which means the players are that much closer and that much more accessible. There is a comradery in the stands born of the recognition that if you’re at a Spring Training game, then you are a true believer in the Magic of Baseball. Wins and losses don’t matter and so, we can all sit back together and just enjoy the game without the anxiety of counting how many games out of first place our team will be when we lose.

We recently attended a game in Lakeland, the long-time home of the Detroit Tigers on our recent trip to Florida. We ran into a young couple in Tigers’ gear who commented on our Orioles gear. It turns out that Camden Yards is their favorite major league ballpark and so, they named one of their children Camden. True believers, indeed.

Some 4,000 of us gathered together to see the Tigers play the Houston Astros. Houston brought many of their starters, each of whom was booed lustily. Two female Tiger fans sported shirts that read, Steal bases, not signs in an obvious reference to the Astros cheating scandal.

Besides those Tiger fans and Houston fans, we saw folks sporting jerseys, hats, or t-shirts representing the Cubs, Phillies, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Reds, Pirates, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Dodgers, Braves, Brewers, Red Sox, Cardinals, Twins, and Nationals. We were sporting our Oriole shirts and hats, of course, which meant that 20 out of the 30 major league teams were represented in the stands. Oh, and the minor league Toledo Mud Hens and Fayetteville Woodpeckers each had at least one fan in attendance as well. This plethora of rooting interests is a perfect example of Spring Training comradery.

There was a rather large contingent of Astros fans who had made their way to Lakeland from West Palm Beach, including a pair of older ladies who styled themselves the “Play ball Bunnies,” and were decked out head to toe—quite literally—in Astros gear. Cheaters or not, the Astros are their team, and they love ‘em no matter what. Kind of a hate the sin, but love the sinner proposition.

The Play Ball Bunnies in all their sartorial splendor.

I’ve been to two different World Series and those games are thrilling, but they are the final salute to a summer past. I think I actually prefer Spring Training games and the hope of the summer to come.

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Dirty Dancing Update

You may remember a post from January titled, “Oh, that dirty dancing from the ’20s,” in which I discussed how 100 years ago, American dance masters were anxious to rid dancing of “vulgar music,” as well as moves such as the body lock, shimmy hold, and half-nelson. Having no idea what these moves might have looked like, I contacted Sharon Davis of JazzMad London, a swing and jazz dance studio in England. I have just received an answer: Sharon has no idea what these moves are/were, but she certainly appreciated the clipping. She also sent me several photos of Lindy Hoppers doing their thing back in the day. I highly recommend Sharon’s dance videos on Youtube, not only for the outstanding dancing, but also for her ultra-pleasant video personality.

Those of you attending the Big Swing Thing at the end of April have two months to perfect some of the moves captured in the images below. Thanks for sharing, Sharon!

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