Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chicago Radio Spotlight: Gary Spears

The latest Chicago Radio Spotlight interview is posted. This week I spoke with K-Hits midday jock Gary Spears. You may remember him from his two stints at B-96.

The interview is here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Coming this weekend

This coming weekend I'll be posting another Chicago Radio Spotlight interview. I spoke with Gary Spears, the former B-96 jock and current midday host at the new K-Hits WJMK. That interview will be posted on Saturday.

Sunday I'll post my latest Father Knows Nothing column. This week I feature the writing of my 8-year-old son Sean, who was forced to write (snail-mail) letters by his 2nd grade teacher. The letters have been pretty hilarious. (Unintentionally)

Now if you'll excuse me, Friday is Clean up the House day at the Kaempfer household. If you call and I don't answer the phone, it's probably because I'm in the laundry room or running the vacuum cleaner. That's right baby, I'm living the dream.

Have a great weekend!

"The Pitch"

I just finished reading another enjoyable baseball novel called "The Pitch." It's written by Hank Owens, and it chronicles the life of a 40-something year old that masters the knuckleball. It's really a wonderful novel about the minor leagues, about wish fulfillment, about getting that one chance in life to live out your dreams. I recommend it to anyone that loves baseball. You can get it here at amazon, or here directly from his publisher Pocol Press.
(As an author myself, let me just tell you that the publisher makes a lot more if you buy it directly from them--Amazon really rips off publishers.)

I got a chance to chat with the author about the book yesterday...

Rick: Your novel takes place in Keokuk, Iowa (mostly), home to the minor league Keokuk Westerns. I know there really isn't a minor league team with that name but I didn't realize until I researched for this interview that there was one in the 19th century. Is that the inspiration for your team's name?

Hank: Absolutely. I’ve always been interested in the history of old minor leagues. We’re used to A through Triple-A, but there used to be leagues down to C and D. Keokuk was one of those. Iowa today has a handful of semi-pro teams that play in small towns, and it seemed like the right place to start. And Keokuk is a great minor league town name.

Rick: For me, personally, as a Cubs history buff, I loved the names of the characters. For instance, the narrator, Orval Sheckard, is a combination of Orval Overall and Jimmy Sheckard from the 1908 Cubs. There are all sorts of examples like that in the book, and I'm certain it's no coincidence. Did you pick those names to pay tribute to the Cubs, or because you just liked the sounds of their names?

Hank: I should have known you’d figure that out! Actually you’re half right. The players’ names are borrowed in part from that year’s Cubs roster, but there’s another part to the roster names, too. Maybe I’ll keep that one under my hat for the moment. There’s something about old baseball names that seems completely timeless, and when I was writing the book I could never quite pin down exactly what decade we were in. The names all seemed like they could be minor league players from any era, which I thought made sense. It’s too bad parents don’t name their kids “Orval” anymore, isn’t it?

Rick: The minor league atmosphere in "The Pitch" really struck me as authentic. How much research did you have to do?

Hank: If by “research” you mean sitting with a beer in a minor league park, then plenty. I live near Des Moines, so every summer has a few I-Cubs games in it. I think what’s great about the minors—especially the lower divisions—is how close you are to the game. You can hear the swearing, you get a real sense for how fast the pitches are, etc. And in A-ball, you’re usually sitting with the scouts and the players’ families, which makes things more interesting. There were a handful of minor league stadiums that I used to set the stage for the Westerns. All of them were old, crumbling, but obviously much loved, and one in particular was in a notoriously buggy swamp. And all of them smelled like stale beer.

Rick: In the movie "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman's character is advised to go into plastics. After reading your novel, I'm guessing you'd disagree with that advice.

Hank: Ha! Yeah, I guess I’d advise some other field. Or at least don’t take that advice literally.

Rick: "The Pitch" provides wish fulfillment for all of the middle aged former high school baseball players out there. Did you see that way while you were writing it?

Hank: Totally. This is the classic middle-age Faustian bargain. If you could sell your soul for an unhittable pitch, would you do it, and what would that look like? Rube Tyler doesn’t sell his soul, of course, and to me it was important that his version of that was much less abstract—no devil at the crossroads, just something very real and concrete that he looked at every day. There’s no doubt that any of us would want the ride Tyler gets—even just the first couple of games in A-ball would be enough, right? And I sort of think that this is how it would play out, from a late night tryout in an abandoned parking lot to a few weeks of pretty grinding, unglamorous work, hoping someone up the ladder takes you seriously. What you’d trade for that, though, is the real question.

Rick: Finally, the entire novel really is an homage to the knuckleball. (That's "The Pitch" the title refers to.) Do you think this current crop of knucklers will be the last, or will that pitch live on after they retire?

Hank: No other sport has a knuckleball. It’s almost like cheating, but it’s cheating using physics, and I’ve always been completely fascinated by that. There’s no special technique in, say, football that would let someone in their 40s play professionally. But in baseball, if you can figure out how to throw a ball without any spin, you’ve got at least a modest career, because even if you’re not great, the pitch has all these knock-on effects. A knuckler can throw forever, since he doesn’t have to throw it hard, so if he’s even moderately effective the bullpen can get a day’s rest. And it does apparently screw up hitters—batting averages the day after facing a knuckleball are apparently a tick or two lower since hitters’ timing has been so wildly thrown off. Of course when it’s not on, it’s hard to watch, but as long as it’s a ticket for 40-year old players to stay on, aging pitchers will keep toying with it and they’ll keep making rosters.

I think most Cubs fans this year would be really happy with a miraculous knuckleball or two…

E-mails, we get e-mails...

"BP" writes to remind me of another reason we all watched "All My Children" in college...

"I watched “All My Children” in the 80’s, too. Since every girl at U of I watched it, it was a great conversation starter. “I can’t believe what Tab did to Dixie ” and you’re off and running. I hadn’t seen the show in years until last summer when I took off Fridays from work. I happened to flip it on and found out that someone had killed Adam’s twin brother, Stuart. Today, my girlfriend watches another soap and Dr Cliff from AMC is on it. She laughs because I am usually in another room while she watches her show but I always yell “Dr. Cliff!” or “Where’s Nina?” where I hear his baritone voice from the TV set."

Did the Cubs throw the 1918 World Series?

Comcast Sportsnet opens this subject again, this time on their website, and of course, in the White Sox column by Chuck Garfien. (Photo: The 1918 Cubs rotation--Lefty Tyler, Hippo Vaughn, Shufflin' Phil Douglas, and Claude Hendrix)

An entire book has been written on the subject, an excellent one called "Original Curse" by Sean Deveney. I've read that book cover to cover, and Garfien's column hits the highlights.

In addition to the things in the CSN column, there are a few things to consider. One, the players didn't even know if baseball was going to return at all in 1919. World War I was still going on, and many players were scheduled to report for duty as soon as the season ended. Plus, with the war going on, fans had lost interest in baseball. Attendance was WAY down. In addition, the player shares were cut to a fraction of what they were the previous years, and at one point during the series, both teams even briefly went on strike. (JFK's grandpa, the mayor of Boston, ended the strike by threatening to unleash the crowd on the players). The motivation was definitely there to throw the series.

Then there's the fact that two of the pitchers pictured above actually were accused of gambling later in their careers by Judge Landis (Douglas and Hendrix). The investigation of Hendrix' alleged thrown game, in fact, led to the investigation of the 1919 Sox. And, Douglas wrote a letter offering to get injured in exchange for some cash, and was banned for life. (He was with the Giants by then)

But honestly, the quotes from Eddie Cicotte that are posted by CSN (and featured in the book), and the speculation by sportswriters and a White Sox employee, simply aren't evidence. Neither is the future behavior of those two Cubs pitchers. There is zero evidence they did anything in 1918. No one ever admitted it. No one suddenly started spending money he previously didn't have. No one was ever formally accused. It's just a guess.

I'm not saying it didn't happen. It might have. But until someone has some proof other than a few people speculating or "hearing things," it's not fair to the 1918 Cubs. They aren't around to defend themselves.

I know it's not fashionable to say so, but let me suggest it anyway. Maybe Babe Ruth and his Red Sox were just better.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Painted Toenails and Tea Sets

I just posted my weekly contribution to Kim Strickland's "A City Mom" blog at ChicagoNow. This week's is about the uproar caused by the J Crew ad featuring a little boy with toenail polish.

You can read it here.

Say it ain't so, Joe

I just want to say a few things before you watch this video.

I like Joe Biden. He seems like the kind of guy that would be fun to have a beer with (isn't that what they always said about George W?), and he really does know a lot about foreign affairs. Behind the scenes, he's probably invaluable. But I sometimes wonder why they ever let him in public.

CBS trained a camera on him during Obama's speech yesterday, and caught Joe taking a nap. That's right, a nap. I really liked the speech, but there's no getting around this--his own VP was falling asleep during it. And it's hilarious to watch. Very mean, CBS. But very funny.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rock Me Amadeus

25 years ago today an Austrian Disco star had the #1 hit in America, singing a song about another Austrian composer that had been dead 200 years. I suspect this situation will never ever repeat itself...

Ironically, like the subject of his most famous song, Falco died at a very age. He was only 40 when he died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Like his idol he is buried in Vienna.

Doug Davis

There's only one problem I can see with the signing yesterday of veteran pitcher Doug Davis.

He can't pitch against the Cubs anymore. He used to kill us.

If there's one thing the Cubs have never been able to hit, it's a junkballing lefty. The rest of the league, unfortunately, doesn't have the same problem.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dead Man's Curve

From Bob Dearborn's The Olde Disc Jockey's Almanac, this strange happening from 45 years ago today...

April 12, 1966…In an eerie real-life recreation of the duo's single from two years earlier, Jan Berry of Jan & Dean crashed his Corvette into a parked truck on Beverly Hills' Whittier Drive, near a stretch of road in Los Angeles known as "Dead Man's Curve." He required four years of rehabilitation to be able to talk, and it was a full decade before he could perform live again.

After you know this story, it's impossible not to think of it when you hear the song. Especially that spoken part in the middle of it...

Fans in Four Cities Miss Departed Broadcast Legends

This is a very nice piece in USA Today about baseball announcers (including Ron Santo) that have passed away in the last year or two.

I can't speak for those other three cities, but I think it captures the Ron Santo part of the story pretty well.

Dodger Fans

The recent story in the news about the Dodgers fans that severely beat up a Giants fan in the parking lot of Dodgers Stadium has been sounding familiar to me all week, and I couldn't place why until last night.

It hit me when I heard a Chicago song on the radio. I remembered that the same thing happened at Dodgers Stadium to Peter Cetera from the band Chicago. It happened in 1969, but it did happen at Dodgers Stadium. I found a quote from Cetera about that incident...

"Four marines didn't like a long-haired rock 'n' roller in a baseball park," Cetera recounts, "and of course I was a Cub fan, and I was in Dodger Stadium, and that didn't do so well. I got in a fight and got a broken jaw in three places, and I was in intensive care for a couple of days. The only funny thing I can think about the whole incident," he says, "is that, with my jaw wired together, I actually went on the road, and I was actually singing through my clenched jaw, which, to this day, is still the way I sing."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Andre Rodgers

50 years ago today Bahamian Andre Rodgers stepped in the batters box for his first time as a Cub. He had been acquired in an off-season trade for Moe Drabowsky.

It was opening day 1961 in Cincinnati, and the opposing pitcher was Jim O'Toole. The young infielder made his presence felt immediately. In his first at-bat as a Cub, Andre cracked a home run. (The Cubs lost 7-1)

The Cubs had high hopes for Andre, and eventually moved Ernie Banks to first base to open up a spot for Rodgers in the infield, but while his fielding was pretty impressive at times (he led the league in range, put-outs, and assists in 1963), that first at-bat homer was not exactly a sign of things to come.

He hit a total of 28 homers in his 4 plus seasons with the Cubs, and was traded to the Pirates after the 1964 season.

Eddie & Valerie

30 years ago today Eddie Van Halen married Valerie Bertinelli. They aren't married anymore, but their marriage did last for 26 years. Here's one of the first interviews after the marriage...

She was 21 years old at the time.

The JOBC contest

Starting this week we'll be doing a contest every week at Just One Bad Century for exciting prizes. This week's prize is a commemorative scorecard from Greg Maddux' 3000th strikeout, plus one of the t-shirts from the Just One Bad Century catalog.

The first person that e-mails me at will win the prize. Tell me what is wrong with the baseball card below...

UPDATE: Congrats to Dale Eggebrecht, he was the first person to e-mail me with the answer to this week's contest. The picture to the left is NOT Mike Fontenot, it's Ryan Theriot. For some reason the people at Topps pulled a major whoopsie-daisy on Mike Fontenot's card that year.

Dale wins the Greg Maddux scorecard and JOBC t-shirt. We'll have another contest every Monday during the Cubs season. Be sure to check back next Monday morning for your chance to win.


I had never seen this clip before, but I stumbled onto it this morning. Jimmy Fallon & Ben Affleck on SNL doing a pretty accurate slam on the wacky morning J.

It's from several years ago, but it still stands up.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Father Knows Nothing

I just posted my latest "Father Knows Nothing" column at NWI Parent. This one is called "Loopholes" and it's about the sneaky tricks kids pull to get their parents to say a word they almost never say--"Yes".

You can read it here.