WHERE OH WHERE HAS MY LITTLE DOG GONE? WHAT HAPPENED TO WESTMINSTER?

Of course, it’s all about money. It’s always about money. The bottom line. The best offer. Fans? Audience? Who cares? Not the Westminster Kennel Club. Moving from the relative convenience and general availability of USA to FS-1 and a secondary National Geographics outlet (and streaming outlets we don’t have), many (maybe most) people won’t be able to see the show.


NOTE: The Agility Masters finals were Sunday night. Tonight is the second and final night of the show, including Best In Show. Fox is doing a pathetic job of it, but Fox does sports poorly. The dogs are great, even if (other than one woman who actually knows what she’s talking about) the reporters and commentator (male) are bad. Fox has a long contract withe Westminster Kennel Club, so if you’re stuck with Fox for the duration. If you love the dogs, try to get past the awful production.

Over the past couple of decades, Westminster and dog show viewership in general has been climbing. No longer just for people who own or show purebred dogs, the show has given millions of dog fanciers the opportunity to see how the various breeds should look, and learn a little about them. Gain some appreciation for their elegance, beauty, history, and the jobs they did in the past and do in the present.

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Other than the toy group, most dogs were bred to perform real tasks and many still do, although they may do different things than they did in past centuries.

Terriers hunt. Mostly vermin like rats and mice, but also badgers and other larger critters that were considered pests to farmers. They don’t do much of that anymore, although give your Cairn a shot at a mouse or two and you might be surprised at what efficient hunters they really are. Unlike cats, terriers absolute revel in killing vermin. They don’t eat it. They just love the hunting and killing.

Gibbs

Gibbs

Our first terrier, a little Norwich Terrier Champion named Divot, was a mighty huntress and while she was young enough, no mouse survived in our house. She’d kill them in a nanosecond and pile them like cord wood at my feet. Someone told me she did that because she felt I had insufficient hunting skills and needed to supply me with meat for the lean days. Personally, I think she was just letting me know how good she was.

She would also, when opportunity hopped, hunt frogs. She didn’t care for water, but she developed a real taste for frog and would brave the wet to catch and eat two or three wriggling frogs plucked from the shallows of a pond. There’s no accounting for taste.

Bishop, the Australian Shepherd

Bishop, the Australian Shepherd

Most of our “protector” dogs were originally herders. Sheep, mostly, but some cattle, too. Little dogs were and are used to herd cattle by nipping at their heels. The bigger herding breeds like collies, German and Belgian shepherds and many other similar breeds, are sheep herders. They are now used for many other things, like protecting their human flocks, and for the police and military. The big guarding breeds — Dobermans, , mastiffs and other mastiff breeds, including the much maligned pit bull varieties — were bred to guard. And guard they will, even without special training. It’s in their DNA.

Other breeds, like labs and Golden Retrievers, spaniels, pointers, and setters, were gun dogs and hunting companions. They retrieve that which the hunter shoots, or tell the hunter where (and what) to shoot … although these days, mostly, they hang out in front of the fire being among the most pettable and friendly of canines.

Griffin, the PBGV

Griffin, the PBGV — French scent hound specializing in peanut butter sandwiches — or rabbits.

Hounds are the nosiest dogs. Some, like bloodhounds, can follow even the faintest scent. Hounds are single-minded and shockingly smart. Some are sight hounds. Greyhounds and wolfhounds see their prey (they are far-sighted) and run it down. Others smaller hounds often live in packs — beagles, coonhounds, foxhounds, harriers.

Many are happy working alone. Some hounds will trail anything while others specialize in rabbits or vermin or whatever else they are trained to track. The thing they have in common is the instinct to chase or trail — or both. Even if it turns out they are tracking down your trash (they can always find it, trust me). They also do not object to a comfy sofa and anything you are willing to let them eat. Anything. At. All.

Toys dogs, were born for love. They adore people and want to be with them. While they may also retain guarding, herding, or hunting instincts, they are very good at one thing: loving you. You want love? They have love in abundance and are compact and seriously cute.

All of this is because I love watching the dog show. We aren’t looking to buy a dog or even adopt another one. The two Scottish Terriers — Bonnie and Gibbs — are plenty of dog for us. But I love watching these gorgeous dogs in perfect condition strut their stuff.

Bonnie the Brave

Bonnie the Brave

For all who believe show dogs are cruelly forced into the ring, you’re wrong.

A dog that doesn’t love being shown won’t be a good show dog. Great show dogs love the applause. They love attention. They are not shy. Divot had attitude. She knew she was The Best. She would tell you: “Just follow my lead and don’t get in my way.” She’d flirt with judges and strut her stuff … and win. Then she’d go home. hunt for mice and take a nice long nap on the sofa. One thing doesn’t exclude the other.

Westminster is the only major dog show in the U.S. that gets real TV coverage. By moving it to obscure cable channels not available to many people, they’ve effectively excluded a big chunk of their existing audience, and eliminated potential new viewers. Sounds self-defeating to me.

This was my Superbowl. How could they do this to me? To us? Unfair! Your honor, I object!

SHARING MY WORLD – ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

Share Your World – February 6, 2017


Regarding your fridge, is it organized or a mess inside?

It is an organized mess.

Do you prefer your food separated or mixed together?

Separated. I like to taste each thing as itself. Otherwise, I’d just throw it all in one big pan and cook it together.

Do you prefer reading coffee table books (picture), biographies, fiction, non-fiction, educational?

I mostly listen to audiobooks these days, but regardless of form, speculative science fiction and fantasy is my top genre with detectives and mysteries running a tight second and history running a very close third. I tend to read in waves. When I find a new author, I read everything he or she wrote, sequentially if possible and sometimes, twice. Favorite authors (in no particular author) include Gretchen Archer, Kim Harrison, Ben Aaronovitch, Mike Carey, Jim Butcher, Barbara Tuchman, Jodi Taylor, Connie Willis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough, James Lee Burke, Jasper FForde, and Anne Golan. I’m forgetting dozens more because I haven’t had nearly enough coffee.

I have a particular love for anything funny, witty, involving time travel, and the undead (except zombies … I’m really not into zombies). I do not like dystopian future stuff because it depresses me. Reality is entirely dystopian enough. I do not need to feed the beast.

I also love a good thriller and historical fiction, as long as it isn’t too sappy. My love of history started long years ago with Thomas Costain’s books and of course, the brilliant and oft-overlooked Angelique series. Fiction got me hunting real history and taught me that no matter what people make up, the stuff that really happened is more bizarre. You can’t make that stuff up.

Close your eyes. Listen to your body. What part of your body is seeking attention? What is it telling you?

My right shoulder, the one with the bad rotator cuff, is trying to kill me. I wanted to get it repaired years ago, but was told (and I think I should have gotten another opinion on this) that it was beyond repair. Usually, if I’m careful, it doesn’t bother me. The problem is that I am short and that shoulder really hates when I raise my arms to get something from a cabinet … all of which are above me because I am really SHORT. The stretch and lift thing is lethal. I have reached a few times too many recently. Now, as I sit here with the heating pad on my back, I realize I am going to have to give it a rest. If I don’t, it will keep getting worse until I can’t do anything at all.

ADJ150-RodeoGarMarHorseback

This is another reminder of the days when I rode horses and fell off a few. I yanked that right shoulder out of joint a couple of times. Eventually, it began popping out of the socket whenever I used the arm fully extended. I had to tuck the arm in and keep the elbow bent and below shoulder level. I didn’t count on shrinking as I got older and having every cabinet above my head.

My shoulder is telling me to stop, just stop. Give it a rest. This is extremely inconvenient because it’s my right shoulder, which is attached to my right arm, which is further attached to my right hand. Guess what? I’m a rightie.

Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

Grateful to the Pats for winning the Superbowl.

Shamelessness, thy name is sports fan. For nearly a hundred years, no team in New England won anything. Except the Celtics (basketball, for the sports-challenged) who had an incredible run from the late 1950s through the 1960s during which period they were the best (and dominant) team in the sport.

Otherwise, it was a long, barren time for New England fans. A pathetic and seemingly endless run of embarrassments, near misses, and coulda, shoulda, woulda. Then the world turned the corner into the 21st century. The Sox got new owners. In 2004, they won their first World Series since 1918. They won again 2007, and 2013.

Meanwhile, the Pats got Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Brady wasn’t supposed to be the “real” quarterback. He was filling in for Drew Bledsoe, who was injured. Talk about Serendipity.

patriots-superbowl-win-2017

The rest, as they say, is history. This year’s Superbowl was, even as spectacular sporting events go, spectacular. If you aren’t a sports fan or are a hardcore “I hate the Patriots” sore-loser, too bad. Because that come-from-behind victory in the first-ever overtime in Superbowl history was amazing. The Pats were toast. They couldn’t win. Down by 25. Then, magically, the game was tied with just 57 seconds left on the clock.

Overtime! They won. With a politically challenged, 39-year-old quarterback, they won. Roger Goodell got a well-deserved and totally earned booing. The Patriots made all kinds of history. Falcon’s fans sat in their living rooms stunned, wondering what hit them. Perk up Falcons and fans. You’re a great young team. Time is on your side.

It was a very good night for New England and a bright spot in what has got to be the most depressing year I can remember.

As for next week? I can just hope it isn’t too awful.

HEROES, ICONS AND LOSS

For Whom We Grieve, by Rich Paschall

In our younger years I suppose it is common to develop heroes in sports and entertainment.  Most of them will be real people, some will be fictitious characters, but they will come to mean a lot in our lives.  We follow their careers.  We cheer them on in the theater and at the movies.  We listen to them on the radio, CDs or streaming apps on our mobile devices.  We watch them at concerts and on television.  We grow attached to our heroes as if they were personal friends or members of the family.  After all, many of them enrich our lives.  Of all these, I think our musical favorites affect us the most to us.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “the soundtrack of our lives.”  Radio stations love to use it, especially oldies stations.  When they say they are playing our “soundtrack,” what do they mean?  Do our lives have a soundtrack?  I believe they do and they contain many heroes and icons.

From a young age up to the early 30s, I think we develop a “soundtrack.”  It is the music we listen to the most.  It is the records, CDs and digital downloads we buy.  How many of us bought an album in our late teens or early 20s and then listened to it many times in the decades that followed?  While some continue to embrace new artists throughout their lives, many cling to the stars of their youth.  For example, I saw Chicago the band in college in the 1970s and more times than I can count in the following years.  I saw Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys) in 2016.  I saw the Rolling Stones a few years ago in Chicago.  It is a joy to listen and reminisce.

Chicago in Chicago, August 2014

Chicago in Chicago, August 2014

When the artists who played the music we grew up listening to pass away, we are understandably sad.  If they pass away from old age or sickness, we not only grieve for them but for ourselves as well.  Their passing is a reminder of our own mortality.  We do, however, have their great music to help ease the pain of loss.

In 2016 it seems we lost some iconic figures who played on the soundtrack of my life.  Maybe they played on yours too.    It was a year that stunned many in the music industry.  My mother would have known Kay Starr (94) and Julius La Rosa (86), who performed until recent years.  Fans of folk music would mourn the loss of Glenn Yarbrough (Limeliters) at 86.  Country and Western fans lost a huge star in Merle Haggard (79).

Elton John lost a hero and musical favorite in Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell (74).  It was Russell who helped John to become a rock star, and John returned the favor in recent years by touring with Russell and recording an album with him (The Union).

Fans of the 1970s Grammy winning rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer saw the passing of both Keith Emerson (74) and Greg Lake (69).  ELP won the Grammy for Best New Artists in 1972 and Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1981.  The progressive rock group sold an estimated 48 million albums.

Of my favorites I will give an honorable mention to Rick Parfitt (68) of the British rock group Status Quo.  The biggest hit I can remember was “Pictures of Matchstick Men” from 1968.  I loved the “psychedelic sound.”  They had a few more hits over the years.  Parfitt is on the left at this 2014 festival performance, proving old guys rock:

One of the first singers I remember was Bobby Vee (73).  He was already a rock star when I became aware of Rock and Roll.  He had quite a string of hits in the 1960s and of course, appeared on American Bandstand with Dick Clark.

Glenn Frey (67), was a musician, songwriter, founding member of the Eagles and a lead singer on many of their hits, as well as an occasional actor on television and in films.  The Eagles Greatest Hits was the best-selling album in the US in the 20th Century and second all time behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.   The track listing of the Eagles iconic album is the finest collection of rock and roll of the 1970s.

Prince Rogers Nelson, or just Prince to you and me, was another multifaceted artist.  He picked up 7 Grammys in his career as well as an Academy Award (Purple Rain).  With numerous hits to his credit, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. At the time of his death he was seeking professional help for constant pain.  He was only 57.  Prince performed Purple Rain live in a rain storm at the Super Bowl:

One of the most iconic rock stars of our era was David Bowie (69).  He was a constant innovator, often reinventing his musical style and his personal image at the same time.  Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. In addition to his musical career, he appeared in many theatrical productions and films.

Perhaps the biggest shock in the Rock and Roll world was the sudden death of Grammy winning artist George Michael (53), reportedly of heart failure.  Michael burst on the music scene as one half of Wham!  Their good looks, high energy and lively tunes brought them huge success.  When Michael went on to a solo career, he tried to concentrate on more adult themes in his music.  Careless Whisper was one of those songs and a big hit:

JIMMY, CASEY, AND THE DUKE – THOSE AMAZIN’ METS! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was swapping old baseball anecdotes with friends on Facebook after Marilyn and I re-watched Ken Burns’ classic “Baseball” series recently. It began with memories of 1963, one year after the introduction of the New York Metropolitans into the National League.

The Mets were designed to lure back fans disenchanted by the flight of Brooklyn’s Dodgers and New York’s Giants to the west coast a few years earlier. It was also a great business opportunity to reclaim some of the money that overflowed the coffers at Yankee Stadium. The once three baseball team Gotham was now dominated by the Bronx Bombers.

1963-mets-rosterThe Mets began as a circus with aging baseball legend, Casey Stengel, as ring master and manager. George Weiss, ousted from the Yankees front office when Casey was dumped for being old and losing the 1960 World Series, was the Mets first General Manager. The old Polo Grounds, once home to John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, a young Willie Mays and a host of other legendary Giants, was now home for the Mets. You could smell the history. Sometimes you had to hold your nose.

It was a good year to be 20 years old and a budding reporter with a life long love for baseball. The national stage was being set by JFK and his new frontier. “Gunsmoke” was topping the TV ratings and Elvis was king of the pop world.

Now came the Mets! They had problems hitting, throwing and catching the ball. Otherwise, they were fine. There were instant heroes like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, the error prone first baseman who had a minus fielding range. “Choo Choo” Coleman was a pleasant catcher who had problems with pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes. Elio Chacon was a flashy shortstop who did tangos as ground balls went through and around him. Roger Craig was a veteran starter whose fast ball was behind him … by several years … back in the ghost of Ebbets Field.

Opposing teams feasted on the new Mets. Baseball games were like batting practice for the other guys. Their batting averages soared and their earned run averages dropped against Casey’s Amazin’ Mets who lost and lost and lost.

Management decided to hype the circus atmosphere of the Mets by bringing in aging stars who normally would’ve retired. The over-the-hill retinue would include Richie Ashburn, Jimmy Piersall and Duke Snider. Even the legendary Willie Mays would show up a decade later in the dark autumn of his career. But it was storybook time for a young reporter in that summer of ’62.

Casey Stengel was wrapping up a 10 minute, one question interview that I’d forgotten as we shook hands. The Ol’ Perfesser tapped me on the cheek and pointed to Duke Snider as my next interview. I froze!! My boyhood hero, the Duke of Flatbush, was standing a few feet away from me.

You have to appreciate the moment and its back story. Growing up in the city of three baseball teams was a very special time. The time of three great, Hall of Fame centerfielders. Willie, Mickey and the Duke. There were myriad brawls over who was the best. There was even a song about the three heroes.

Duke Snider

Duke Snider

Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider was my idol. He was the sweet swinging lefty slugger from Compton, California. I had the Duke’s baseball cards, magazine stories and photos of Duke and his wife, Bev. I copied Duke’s swing and classic running gait, with elbows slightly raised as I rounded the bases after my imaginary grand slam home run. We still have his Hall of Fame plaque on the wall in the kitchen.

Now, he was standing next to me. My voice shot up several levels as the interview began. The Duke stared at me and mumbled, “I’m busy, Kid”. I just stood there. Crestfallen. Duke? Duke? I was still standing there when the Duke returned with a small smile on face.

Casey was standing behind Duke as he stood and politely granted me the interview. I was mesmerized. He apologized for his earlier, gruff manner and posed for a polaroid moment with me. Behind us, I could see Casey winking at me. As I basked in the moment, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see the familiar face of Jimmy Piersall. Casey again was winking at me a few feet away. It was a wicked grin. I was puzzled.

Piersall who didn’t resemble Tony Perkins who had starred in the bio movie, “Fear Strikes Out”, also had a strange grin on his face.  It was a bizarre moment. In a blur of seconds, Piersall was running around the bases backwards with a bat raised over his head and yelling. I kept my distance. It was surreal!! Piersall approached me again, bat in hand and weird smile on his face. “I was just funnin’ with you, Kid”, Piersall explained. He went on with a rambling anecdote about the joys of playing for Casey and the Mets.

I don’t recall ever asking Piersall a question. It didn’t matter.

My tech aide, actually a pal from the college radio station, was laughing as he showed me the pictures he’d taken. We had proof. I hadn’t imagined the crazy events. I wish I had those pictures now!

So it was, some 54 years ago. One memorable summer afternoon, when all was right in my world.

JACKIE ROBINSON – AMERICAN LEGEND

BY GARRY AND MARILYN ARMSTRONG

For more than a week, we’ve been watching (again) Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary series: “Baseball.” It brought back so many memories. With so much social and cultural division and hatred in our country, we need more baseball. At one point in the documentary, a Dominican play says “We’ve never fought a war or had an insurrection during baseball season.” We need to remember battles fought and lives sacrificed to reach this day. It should not be in vain. Let us at the very least, treat each other with respect and fairness.

42-jackie-robinson-movie-hd-wallpaper

We meant to see 42 in the movies, but it got away from us. By the time we were ready to see it, it was gone. That turned out to be fine, because I bought the movie and we had a private screening. Time for baseball and history. Not only baseball. Not only history.

The integration of sports is taken so much for granted today, younger generations can’t imagine it being any other way. This is the movie that shows how it happened. It’s a movie about many things. It’s the story of how and why Jackie Robinson became the first non-white player in Major League Baseball. How this was the start of the integration of all professional sports. It was the beginning of modern baseball as well as the first significant move toward integration in the United States since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

That it was our original home town team, the Brooklyn Dodgers who did it makes the story personal for us. Branch Rickey, owner of the Dodgers, decided it was time to make a difference. Because he could, he changed the world. Harrison Ford as Mr. Rickey mumbles. He’s also real, touching, human. He actually made me cry. Harrison Ford is not known for nuanced performances, but he gives one in this movie.

42-logoI commented that Harrison used to be President, not to mention Indiana Jones. Garry pointed out that owning the Dodgers was far more important. I agreed. Because Garry and I agree: there’s nothing more important than baseball. Especially right now.

Chadwick Boseman bears a strong physical resemblance to Jackie Robinson. He doesn’t sound like him, but that’s quibbling. Nicole Beharie is a pretty good likeness of Rachel Isum Robinson. Who, as Garry pointed out, is even today, one fine-looking woman. It was no accident Rickey chose a good-looking couple. He knew what they would be up against and it would be hard enough. Any small advantage they could gain by just being attractive … well, they were going to need it.

It’s impossible for those brought up after the Civil Rights Amendment to understand the intensity of the hatred, anger and rage that bringing a Black man into baseball caused.

It was 1947, the year I was born. The big war in Europe was over and returning Black soldiers were appalled and enraged that fighting for their nation had done nothing to alleviate the oppression of Jim Crow laws. Segregation was not merely as bad as it had been. It was worse.

Moreover, returning Black soldiers made racists throughout America nervous that their position of supremacy was being threatened. They apparently still feel that way, 70 years later.

It would take 17 more years before the civil rights amendment passed and at least two decades more to make it stick. Twenty-five more years to get a Black President into office. Who knows if we will ever stop hating people because are different color. Race — and the judgments we make based on skin color — are so ingrained, so automatic. So very American. More than apple pie or the flag, we the people love to hate. It’s the most universal of all behaviors. Not as we prefer to advertise, our ability to love, but our willingness to hate. Hate is easier, effortless.

Chadwick Boseman not only looks like Jackie Robinson. He has his swing. I assume they taught him the swing, but they did it well and got that gritty baseball “feel” into the movie. Everyone plays their part with authenticity, as those of us old enough to remember the real guys can attest. Maybe that’s the problem with many of the critics: they never saw the real guys, met them, cheered for them. Lived and died with them through the long season of baseball. They don’t remember, but we do.

The cinematography is great, moving smoothly and naturally between wide and close shots to give you the feeling of the game and more. Nice, tight segues. What is even better captured is the intensity of the abuse Robinson was forced to put up with, to swallow without complaint while simultaneously playing at the top of his game. I’d like to see any modern player survive this.

In many ways, Robinson didn’t survive it. He lived through it, but it killed him from the inside. He blasted open the door of the future and it cost him dearly.

jackie_robinson_brooklyn_dodgers_1954-resizedWhy did Rickey do it? There was a strong moral component. Rickey believed it was the right thing to do. The right thing to for baseball. But it was also a sound business decision. There was a huge pool of talent out there in the Negro Leagues. The Dodgers needed all the help they could get. By bringing in first Jackie Robinson while planning to bring up more Black players, Rickey figured he was going to do some serious winning. He was right.

Christopher Meloni, ex of Law and Order: SVU, nails Leo Durocher, the crazy, quirky Brooklyn Dodger’s manager. He actually looks like Durocher.

If you love baseball, see it. Even if you don’t love baseball, see it anyway. See it for the history, to remember how hard the battle for equal rights was, is and will continue to be. How much baseball, the American pastime, has always been at the center of the American experience.

And finally see it because it’s the story of a genuine red-blooded American hero. In every sense of the word.

From Garry Armstrong:

I have to admit I was tearing up in places even though there’s no cryin’ in baseball. Critics aside, this was no pleasant Hollywood fable but a fairly authentic account of Jackie Robinson, the man and the player and the times that swirled around him.

Much of this is first-hand recall for me. I was 5 years old and already a budding baseball fan in Brooklyn in 1947 when the young player wearing number 42 became a household name. I remember all the excitement in my neighborhood. Some of it I understood. Some of it I didn’t. The newspapers and radio were full of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson and how what they were doing would perhaps cause problems all across the country.

I remember angry things shouted by White people we encountered. I recall some very nice comments offered by White people who frequently said Jackie Robinson was “a credit to your people.”

jackie-robinsin-steals-home

Jackie Robinson steals home in the 1955 World Series

I followed the Dodgers very closely over the years. I knew their lineup by heart, could emulate their swings and could recite from memory details of their personal lives along with the baseball stuff. In later years, I’d have the good fortune to meet many of the Boys of Summer including Peewee, Campy, Big Newk, Ralphie Branca, Gil Hodges, The Duke (My hero) and Jackie Robinson.

Later, as a reporter, they gave me their own first hand accounts of what it was like – that memorable year of 1947. I would also hear from Red Barber, the legendary sportscaster who called almost all of the games during the ’47 season for the Dodgers. One poignant memory involves a conversation with Campy (Roy Campanella) and Jackie Robinson. I was now a young reporter and a familiar face to many of the aging Dodgers. Campy was always “the diplomat”, pleasant and smiling.

Jackie always seemed angry. I thought he was mad at me sometimes until Campy said he was just “Jackie being Jackie”. The conversation was about how young Black people conduct themselves. Jackie thought many were irresponsible. Campy said they were just kids doing what kids do. Jackie glared at Campy and then smiled at me saying. “You get it, don’t you?” I just nodded.

Sorry I strayed from the movie but it evoked so many, many memories. And, thanks Harrison Ford, for a splendid portrayal of Branch Rickey!

FLY THE W

A Chicago Tradition, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


If you watched the National League baseball playoff games, or the World Series, you may have noticed many Chicago Cubs fans with white flags.  No, they were not trying to signal surrender.  The flags have a large blue “W” in the center, signifying a Win for our local heroes.  With a little clever marketing and the help of social media, #FlytheW  began to appear everywhere.  Cubs fans were buying up these flags for their houses, their cars and to take to the ballpark.  While it was only a minor thing in recent years, it has exploded into a giant marketing gimmick this year.

By JayCoop - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

By JayCoop – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

It is not something new to the guys who run the old mechanical scoreboard in center field.  Yes, the big metal board is still out there and an iconic part of the ballpark.  No modern digital board can replace it, although we have added those during the recent outfield renovation.

Soon after the old scoreboard was finished in 1937, the team adopted the practice of flying a flag after the game to signal whether the team won or not.  A blue flag with a white “L” would signify a loss.  There were important reasons for these flags.

Before the era of hand held devices with sports apps, before even the transistor radio, a main way for fans to learn the outcome of the game, was to look up at the scoreboard.  If you did not catch the game on the radio or find the score in the afternoon papers, the Daily News or the Chicago American, you could see the result flying from above Wrigley Field.  Before television, and before the internet, you might want to know what color flag was raised after the game of the day (no night games for us until 1988).

I am not sure exactly when I was lucky enough to own a transistor radio, but before that it could be hard for us to run down the result of the game.  We lived close enough to the park to ride our bikes to the field to see the flags.  People going home on the Howard-Englewood “L” train (now the Red Line) could look west from the Addison stop to see if the team had a victory.  It was important way to spread the news to the North Siders.Cubs L flag

For most years of my young life we were more likely to find the “L” flying over the park.  Whether we were in the park or just hanging around outside, it was a rare day when we saw the white flag go up.  With every blue flag came the belief that tomorrow, or at least next year, we would begin to see the “W” more often.

Via Ron Cogswell

Via Ron Cogswell

If the need to signal the neighborhood with the outcome of the game has long passed, the tradition of flying the flag remains.  When the game is over, all the little pennants with the National League team names on them are taken down and the “L” or the “W” rises.  On double header days, you might find both flying at the end of the games.  Double headers, of course, are now a rare occasion.

This year we have been treated to many Wins in the “Friendly Confines,” as former MVP Ernie Banks used to call the park.  Local flag makers had trouble keeping up with the surprising demand for W flags big and small.  We have taken a long standing practice at the park and turned it a national phenomenon for our national pastime.

Cubs Win

Cubs Win, Cubs Win, Cubs Win.  Holy Cow!

Longtime Chicago broadcaster Harry Caray (11 years with the White Sox, 16 years with the Cubs), hoped to see that “W” over a World Series.  He did not live to see it, but he promised us it would happen.  He died at the age of 83 or around that (another story) and saw many flags fly over the park, but not the most important one.  A statue of Caray is now outside the park.

Some years, he was much more popular than the “loveable losers” the Cubs had on the field.  It seemed unfair he missed out, so a long time sponsor arranged for the flag and Harry to make to Cleveland for the final call.  You can fly the “W” now, Harry.  We finally made it.

JOY IN WRIGLEYVILLE – RICH PASCHALL

Mudville, too – Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
the score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
a sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

mighty-casey-us-stamp

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
they thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
they’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

Credit: Wikimedia commons

Credit: Wikimedia commons

Perhaps you are familiar with the famous baseball poem by Ernest Thayer. It was first published in 1888.  For Chicago Cubs fans it seemed almost that long since their last World Series Championship.  The Cubs won in 1907 and 1908.  Fans had been waiting ever since for the North Siders to win again.


But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
and the former was a lulu and the latter was a fake,
so upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
for there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.


No matter how good the team or even how big a lead the Cubs may have had during a regular season, they always seemed to strike out when they were needed the most.  I recalled vividly the crushed hopes of Cub fans in 1969 when the Cubs had such a big lead on September 2, no one thought they could possibly miss.  Then they lost 17 of 25 games and the hated New York Mets went on a winning streak to steal away the pennant.  Like this year’s Cubs’ team, the 1969 players just seemed too good to lose.


But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
and Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
and when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
there was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
it knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.


The last time the Cubs made it to the World Series was 1945.  Their team, just as all the others in major league baseball, had many replacement players.  Most of the young and able-bodied men of the country were fighting in World War II.  It was at game 4 in Wrigley Field that the now infamous “curse” was placed on the team by tavern owner Billy Sianis.  It seems Billy bought two box seat tickets to the game, one for himself and one for his goat.  The goat was let in, but after a rain fell on the crowd, the goat did not smell too good.  Cubs owner and chewing gum magnate, P K Wrigley, had Sianis and his goat removed from Wrigley Field.  On the way out, Sianis put a curse on the team which became a legendary story all around town.


There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
there was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.


As the years wore on and some very good teams failed to bring any glory to town, local fans began to blame the Cub’s bad luck on Billy Goat.  Over the years, the Cubs even let the Sianis family bring a goat to Wrigley Field to help lift the curse, but it never worked.  The Cubs found ways to lose.


And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped–
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
and it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.


The Cubs held a record of futility no other team could claim.  When they last won the World Series, they were not even in Wrigley Field yet.  The ballpark opened in 1914.  Pictures of Chicago in 1908 show horse drawn carts on the streets.  Now we go to the games by bus and by “L” train.  Those who live on the north side of Chicago know not to drive to the park.

1908 Giants vs. Cubs

1908 Giants vs. Cubs


With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
he stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
he signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said: “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
but one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
and they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.


The second oldest baseball park in existence (Marilyn and Garry will tell you which one is older) had never been home to a World Series champion.  With a team that looked better than the Hall of Fame rich 1969 edition, this seemed to be the year the Cubs would bring home the trophy.

With the Cubs down 3 games to one in the Series, it looked bad, but our heroes battled back.  Then in the 9th inning of game 7, the team lost its lead and the rains came. But that story did not end there. 

If you don’t know the end of the poem, you can click the link that follows. Our story ended differently, this time.  I am sure you heard about it. 

Yes, there is joy in Wrigleyville. Mighty Casey hit that ball and knocked it right out of the park.


Read the entire poem here: Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, Ernest Thayer, The Daily Examiner, June 3, 1888. Or, here, where it is dedicated to Garry, a lifelong fan of America’s Pastime: FOR GARRY ON THE OCCASION OF HIS BIRTHDAY … CASEY AT THE BAT.