Saturday, February 25, 2006

Guest Blogger: Bill Holub

Bill Holub spent eighteen years laboring in the news department of WLUP Radio in Chicago. He wrote news for the likes of Buzz Kilman, Laura Witek, and Maggie Brock, and he hosted his own public affairs show on the station: "Chicago Street Talk." During his years at WLUP, he also introduced a young intern from his department to the producer of the Steve and Garry show. The couple was married a few years later. (Yes, I'm referring to Bridget and me, and yes that picture of Bill is from my wedding.) Bill has since left the radio business to pursue a career in computers.

Bill Holub is a huge baseball fan, and that's the reason I asked him to contribute to the blog. Every year at this time, when the pitchers and catchers started reporting to spring training, Bill would walk the hallways of WLUP saying...

By Bill Holub

“Pitchers and catchers report”.

These are indeed the sweetest words in the English language. Friends have been hearing me recite this every year at this time. I once had an old poker playing friend who used to say the sweetest words have always been “I’ll play these”. This is the same friend who couldn’t win even when dealt a pat hand. That however is a story for another time and place, where an explanation of the relationship between the quantity of beer consumed, what the cards in your hand really look like and the amount of money you bet can be fully explored. It’s really something scientists should be looking at.

In the meantime, I apologize to all those who came here looking for a sentimental dialogue on romance. I’m sorry to say it but the sweetest words in the English language are not “I love you”. Now that I think of it, this may instead be a sentimental dialogue on romance and baseball.

It’s funny how the two always converge around Valentine’s Day. Spring fever is referred to as that time of year when things start to bloom as the weather changes and love is in the air. It is no coincidence that this is the same time the baseball season opens and brings hope to all of us diehard baseball romantics.

My love affair with baseball was re-ignited in 1987-88. There was only one place to catch baseball highlights from all over the major leagues back then. Once a week you could tune in to “This Week In Baseball” with good ol’ Mel Allen. During those two seasons I was hooked into witnessing two West Coast baseball Gods embodied in the forms of a young Mark Mcgwire and Jose Canseco. This is before anyone had ever heard of andro, anabolics and the other chemical cocktails that have since cast a pall over these two. Back then, I was treated week in and week out to mammoth sized home runs flying out of every ballpark in the country. The fact that these home runs were being hit by players wearing what my brother and I had always considered the coolest looking baseball uniforms in the world (the Oakland A’s green and gold) had me embracing the game I grew up on all over again.

By 1989 I was so hooked on this game I even started collecting baseball cards again, although as much as an investor as a fanboy. I also started another nasty habit that impacts my life to this day. That is when I started a fantasy baseball league with a bunch of guys at work. 1989 also happened to be a division winning season for my beloved Cubs, so I was in baseball heaven and haven’t looked back since.


I think we can honestly say that baseball is no longer the national pastime in this country. It has been supplanted by football. I can accept that. Although I would insist the true national pastime is gambling, which is the driving force that makes football the number one spectator sport in America. I suppose I could go off on a George Carlin type of rant here on the differences between football and baseball, but that’s not why I’m writing this piece.

I just want to point out there is one major difference between the two and that is commitment. I’m talking about the commitment between baseball fans and football fans. Football is a four month season requiring your undivided attention one day a week, or two if you’re both a college and pro fan. Baseball is a six month season requiring your undivided attention throughout with your favorite team(s) playing as many as five or more games a week.

Baseball is a commitment. I believe it carries as much of a commitment as love. They both require dedication and attention. They can both go awry despite the best laid plans. An early swan dive in the standings in May that ends a team’s season before it even had a chance can be just as painful as not having your phone calls returned after the second or third date. Meanwhile an October champagne shower celebrating a pennant or World Series championship is as sweet and memorable as a ‘yes’ to a question posed on one knee.


Once that warm baseball is back feeling starts sinking in every year, I like to get fully immersed by throwing myself into my favorite baseball movies before the games actually begin. This is my form of spring training.

You’ve got your “Bull Durham”, “Field Of Dreams”, “Major League” (only the first one, please), but there is one movie that hits me in the right spot. “City Slickers” is not a real baseball movie per se, but there’s one scene that remains among my all-time favorites. It’s where the three friends (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby) are on the cattle drive and passing the time by discussing their favorite baseball memories. Billy Crystal remembers the first time his father took him to Yankee Stadium as a kid and how he had never seen grass that green before. Mickey Mantle even hit a home run that day. Daniel Stern recalls how growing up he and his father never saw eye to eye, but they could always talk about baseball with each other. “We always had baseball” he says.

As for me, one of my earliest baseball memories was getting to take the day off of school with my brother because my Dad got opening day tickets to Wrigley Field. I still remember wearing our warmest winter coats and knit hats, waiting to sit down while the Andy Frain usher brushed the snow off our seats. They don’t make Aprils in Chicago like that any more.


There is a sound that accompanies the words “pitchers and catchers report”. It is the sound of a ball popping into a mitt. The sound of a simple game of catch. It is more than the crack of a bat sound. The sound of a mitt popping brings the memories and feelings of a lifetime of baseball flooding your senses all at once. It happens every time, whether it’s major leaguers or just a game of catch with your dad or your kid. The week pitchers and catchers report there are no cracking bats, only popping mitts. The sweetest sound in the world. “Pitchers and catchers report”. The sweetest words in the English language.

Guest Bloggers coming in March: WGN Radio's Leslie Keiling, Attorney Shawn Wood, Radio personality and actor Doug James, and WFLD-TV Reporter Dane Placko

If you missed any previous guest bloggers, check them out at

Thursday, February 23, 2006

From the Archives: He's the President

It was the golden age of Presidential comedy. The President of the United States from 1993--2000 was beloved by many, but trust me when I tell you that nobody loved him more than the nation's comedy writers.

David Letterman started featuring classic Clinton jokes a year or two into Bush's first term because he missed the comedy potential so much. Jay Leno would go weeks without doing jokes about anyone else. The Daily Show cut it's comedic teeth during these years.

George Bush looked like he had comedic potential at first with his mispronunciations, but then September 11th happened, and now every Presidential joke offends about half of the country.

In the 1990s, we could laugh as one country, united in the realization that we were living in the golden age of Presidential comedy. A blue dress. A cigar. A really unpleasant whistle blower. An uptight First Lady. A chubby intern. An independent prosecutor who leaked the most lurid details. A Congressman leading the impeachment who himself had a youthful indiscretion (at age 41). An impeached President with a 70% approval rating. A 6-foot tall female Attorney General who kick any one of our butts. "It depends on what your definition of is is."

I could go on and on. I'm tearing up a little now remembering how easy it was in those days...

The John Landecker Show certainly took part in the comedy free-for-all. We had not one, not two, not three, but four songs about the President: "Big Macarena," "Intern with the Blue Dress On," "The Chipmunks Impeachment Song," and "He's the President." The biggest hit was "He's the President," which appears on Landecker & the Legends, Volume 5. Picture if you will, a man with a President Clinton mask on, dancing on-stage with the Legends as John sang this song. It was a regular part of our stage show for three or four years.

"He's the President"
(To the tune of "The Wanderer" by Dion)

Well there was slick Willie, talking on TV,
Said he didn't perjure based on technicalities,
We all loved his TV song and dance,
What's the matter with you Clinton can't you keep it in your pants?

He's the President,
Yeah he's the President,
In charge of foreign and domestic affairs.

Before you get feathers and before you get your tar,
JFK did it, and so did FDR,
Harding had a love child, Bill never went that far,
He just treated the oval office like the back seat of a car.

He's the President,
Yeah he's the President,
In charge of foreign and domestic affairs.

Well the ladies all look so fine,
And Bill wandered all the time,
With women 18 to 69,
But when it came to Janet Reno that's where Clinton drew the line.

Though Starr may be hated and the same with Linda Tripp,
Bill wouldn't have these problems if he just kept it zipped,
Now the only thing that's stiff is Bill's upper lip,
Or Hillary will go Bobbitt, she won't hesitate to snip.

The President.
Yeah he's the President,
In charge of foreign and domestic affairs.

So the whole country watched, the President's speech,
And some of us forgave him, and some of us preached,
But there's only a few hundred that he really had to reach,
The members of Congress with the power to impeach,

The President
Yeah, the President.
In charge of foreign and domestic affairs.

While I've never actually met a President before, I have met a Vice President. Dan Quayle was another favorite target during the golden age of Presidential comedy. I met him just after he and the first President Bush lost the election to Clinton. He was appearing at Marshall Field's and signing copies of his book. I got a press pass, and although he wasn't doing any radio interviews, I brought my tape recorder anyway. Seeing that I was the only press person to show up, he agreed to do a short interview with me. I found him to be very pleasant and engaging. The main topic of our conversation was the origin of the term "Hoosier" (he's from Indiana). We replayed the interview on the air the next day. When Quayle announced he was dropping out of the 2000 Presidential race about seven years later, I wrote a song about him too. It can found on the last Landecker & the Legends CD, "20th Century Hits & Bits".

I guess I'll never understand why our current Vice President feels he needs to go hunting this very nice man (Quayle). I hope he never successfully shoots him.

If you missed any of the previous "From The Archives," click here:

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Suburban Man: President's Day

“President’s Day”

When you’re a little kid, there’s really nobody in the world more impressive than the President of the United States. It doesn’t matter what your parent’s political affiliations are, the President is in charge of this whole country. If you aren’t impressed by that, you aren’t easily impressed. I guess my oldest son Tommy isn’t easily impressed.

I’ll let you judge for yourself if he is a fan of the current President. When I took him into the voting booth with me (as part of his Cub Scout requirement) in November of 2004, he was aghast when he thought I had voted for him. He screamed it—“Dad, I think you accidentally voted for George Bush!”

I smiled weakly at the old people voting alongside me in my staunchly Republican district. Tommy wouldn’t let it go. “Dad, you better ask for another ballot.”

I said “Don’t worry, Tommy.”

I’m not going to tell you if Tommy saw it correctly or not, because that’s why we have secret ballots. My Dad hammered that into my head every election day. I would ask him who he voted for, and he would say; “None of your business.” (All part of the touchy-feely German love we shared at my house). In this case, though, I think he was right. Don’t insist on your son believing in certain politics, let him find his own way in the world. If your party of choice can’t convince him, they don’t deserve his vote.

I’ve tried to follow the same model with my kids. As a humor writer, I’m admittedly always going to be poking more fun at people in power than those not in power, but other than the occasional joke—I try very hard not to get into “I’m right, you’re wrong” politics with my kids. There is no reason to make this into one of those “if you don’t believe what I believe, you can’t live under my roof” kind of homes. I learned my lesson about the effectiveness of that strategy when my rabid-Cubs love inadvertently turned my baby brother into a White Sox fan.

Which brings me to my middle son, Johnny. Johnny is a traditional kid. He respects authority. He loves the President. In fact, he thinks the President is just about the most impressive person in the world. I’ve actually seen him clap when Bush appeared on television. It’s kind of cute.

The morning after the presidential election, the first thing Johnny asked me was: “Who won, Dad?”

I said; “George Bush”

He clapped, then raised his hands in the air triumphantly, screaming “Yeah!”

Tommy hung his head. He asked: “Was it legitimate this time?”

I said: “Looks like it.”

Johnny clapped again and said; “I can’t wait until I’m an eagle scout.”

Tommy and I looked at each with confused expressions. “Why is that Johnny?” I asked.

“Because then I can write a letter to the President!”

Someone along the way had obviously told Johnny that writing a letter to the President was among the perks of being an Eagle. When I mentioned to him that he didn’t have to wait until becoming an Eagle, he was so excited he went downstairs and wrote it immediately. Keep in mind that he was in 1st grade at the time, and was just beginning to learn how to write. This is what he wrote:

“Dear Mr. President: My name is Johnny. I’m 6 ½ years old. I have 2 brothers. Their names are Tommy and Sean. I like your job a lot. I’m only a Tiger Cub Scout. Well, that’s not all, Mr. President. I hope you have a nice day today. You’re my fav! From Johnny Kaempfer”

I love that letter.

I got the address to the White House and made him address the letter himself, figuring there was a better chance of getting a response if the envelope was clearly addressed by a little kid. For the next few weeks, every day after school Johnny would ask me if the President had written him back yet. I could see the disappointment in his eyes when I told him he hadn’t. I told him that the President receives millions of letters, and he can’t possibly answer all of them.

A few months later a big manila envelope arrived with the return address: THE WHITE HOUSE. I must admit, I was shocked. Johnny set his own personal vertical jump record (about three inches—Kaempfers can’t jump) when I showed it to him.

“Oh boy!”

I helped him open it. It was picture of George and Laura Bush, and a letter addressed to Johnny. Here’s a scanned copy of the letter...

I know, I know. It's way too hard to read at this size. Here is what the letter says:

“Dear Johnny,

Thank you for writing. I always enjoy hearing from young Americans. During this important time in our history, you can help America by setting high goals, working hard in school, and helping others in your community. Our country needs your idealism, hope, and energy.

I also encourage you to strive to learn something new every day. You can read more about issues that interest you, current events, and the history of our country by visiting your library or by logging onto the White House websites, and By understanding the events of today and learning more about our past, you can become a responsible citizen and help make the world a better place.

Mrs. Bush and I send our best wishes for your future success.


George W. Bush”

So, while most kids happily just took the day off yesterday, I had one in this house who actually celebrated President’s Day. His older brother didn’t. I agree with one of them more than the other, but is there a reason to pick sides? It’s not like it’s important. This isn’t like the Cubs-White Sox issue. One side isn’t always right, and the other side isn’t always wrong.

The only certainty is that both of them are wrong sometimes. To think otherwise kills your sense of humor. Look at what it’s done to Dennis Miller and Al Franken. Those guys used to be funny.

Raising a Democrat (Tommy), a Republican (Johnny), and an Independent (Sean) is just fine with me, because they'll realize there is more than one perspective in the world.

Raising a humorless kid?

I don't think I could ever forgive myself.

If you've missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: