Monday, July 29, 2013

Finally, getting rid of "stuff"

     Most of us -- maybe all of us -- tend to hoard our "stuff," and it stays with us for years.
      But for the past few months, we've gotten serious about letting go of "the stuff." Last week, for instance, I began culling the hundreds -- thousands? -- of saved stories, the ones I've written and many more others have written.
      I keep thinking of George Carlin, one of my favorite comedians/commentators/life observers who introduced his "Stuff" routine on Comic Relief in 1986 and turned it into the basis for his ninth album -- A Place for My Stuff.
Awards/certificates are only a scanned memory now
      "That's the whole meaning of life," George explained in the original routine, "trying to find a place for your stuff."
      Last week the place for my stuff was the garbage can and the recycle bin, and my computer (I'll explain that in a moment).
      More Carlin: "A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff."
      Not here. Part of the reason we've reduced  our stuff is because we downsized, moving from a two-story duplex to an apartment.
      Here's another factor: In 36 years of marriage, we have moved 14 times, and we're thinking of moving again -- hopefully, one last time. We have moved some of this stuff every time -- from Louisiana to Hawaii back to Louisiana, to Florida, to Tennessee, to Texas. So the less we have to haul around now, the better.
      Another reason, and this took a long while to develop, is my decreasing lack of sentimentality. The books, photos, video tapes, clothes, plaques/certificates and awards, letters and clippings that meant so much to me for so many years don't matter any more.
      So they've gone to Half-Price Books, and to Goodwill, and to the garbage can and the recycle bin. And I've had to tell myself -- and Beatrice -- over and over again that, hey, I don't really need this "stuff" anymore.
      Bea, too, has been letting go, of clothes, household items such as cookware, linens, blankets, boxes and boxes of school papers, cards and letters.
      We've found that the most difficult things to shed were those that belonged to the kids. But those kids are in their 30s now -- one of them for only one more year -- and their drawings and papers from kindergarten and first grade just don't have a place now.
      We were wistful when we looked at Jason's soccer uniforms, a dozen or so from about as many years. That was a lot of afternoons and nights, a lot of games and road trips. But when we took the box to Jason's house, he had little interest ... and we're not sure where those uniforms wound up. Storage room is a problem at his house, too.
      We took Rachel a box of her Babysitters Club books, her big jar of marbles, her CareBears (about 15) and her other stuffed animals. When she reunited with Boppie -- her long-eared fuzzy hound dog who was in her crib even before she was all those years ago -- that brought tears.
      Boppie had been in hiding for a couple of decades. So he has a new home. But the rest of that material, I would guess, is down in Rachel and Russell's garage.
      But it's not at our place; that's the point.
      For the past two years, I have been taking clothes that no longer fit -- thanks to a 20-pound weight loss -- to Goodwill. I have shed dozen of books that I no longer needed, including some historical books on baseball and the Dallas Cowboys.
      Still have more than enough clothes and more than enough books, and maybe soon I'll get to another round of elimination. My favorite baseball books, Dynasty (on the 1949-64 New York Yankees) and The Boys of Summer (on the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers), are keepers, though.
      I had three weighty boxes in my closet (have had them for years) -- one with most of the awards/plaques I received in my career, and two with the aforementioned clippings, magazines, stories, letters. Kept these items because they had sentimental meaning.
      But, aha, I found a way to keep the memory but not the items.
      Our printer has a scanner. What a revelation.
Gone to the scanner: one of my favorite old T-shirts
      After we've owned the printer for 5 1/2 years, I only recently learned to use the scanner (thanks to our friend Frank's help). I figured out that I could (1) scan my awards/plaques or (2) take a picture of them, and then save the image from my computer to a USB flash drive. Same with my clippings/stories.
      So a few weeks ago I scanned the awards/plaques -- I did keep a couple that were more special -- and then transferred the scans from my computer to a flash drive. Then discarded the box of plaques; a few pounds gone.
      Last week I spent a few hours pasting some clippings into a couple of semi-complete scrapbooks, then scanning others into the computer and transferred them.
      I had a package of old, worn-out, too-small specialty shirts/sweaters -- linked to Dutch soccer, the Shreveport Journal, my Jerry Byrd Alumni Club T-shirt, a Honolulu Advertiser hurricane T-shirt, etc. -- and I took a picture of each one. Same process followed.
      Went through part of my letters/memorabilia, and decided I could let go of a great many -- and didn't feel bad about it.
      There's plenty left to do. We still have many handdowns from my parents -- including items that come with us from Holland -- and Bea's parents, and we'll probably keep those, and hand them down to our kids.
      I have years and years of my photos, letters, e-mail printouts and my bylined stories/columns (although I probably kept only about 30 percent of what I've written), and I'll continue culling and scanning.
       There is a time for letting go. Trips down memory lane are nice -- as I've noted several times in these blogs -- but we just can't take all this "stuff" with us. It weighs a lot less on the flash drives.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Growing up in Jewish Amsterdam

(Seventh in a series)
       Dad was never destined to go to college, not in the 1920s and 1930s when he grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in Amsterdam.
       Where Louis Van Thyn was headed, as determined by academic standards/potential when children reached sixth grade, was trade school. So was his brother Hyman, older by two years.
       By the mid-1930s -- before the threat of the Germans and World War II grew into the world's nightmare -- Hyman was on his way to learning the cabinet-making trade. Dad was also on that path until the Depression intervened, and he had to go to work at age 14.
       Before that, though, as he recalled in his 1996 testimony for the USC Shoah Foundation, was a happy boyhood in Amsterdam.
        As we've written previously, the Jewish faith, Jewish life, played a big role in Dad's first 15 years or so. So, naturally, did his connection with his older brother. (Not so much with younger brother Jonas, who was born 13 years after my Dad.)  
       "We went to an almost all-Jewish school," Dad told his Holocaust interviewer. "There were maybe two or three non-Jewish children in the class; the rest were all Jewish. We were living in, you could say, a Jewish neighbood. There were some parts, across from our house was a block with only gentiles and they went to a special school over there, a special Christian school in the neighborhood. But there weren't too many [gentiles]. On the Jewish holidays, the schools were closed."
       Most of the neighborhood schools, too, were closed on Saturdays (because of the Jewish sabbath), although that wasn't the case in much of Amsterdam, where schools wee open fo a half-day on Saturdays.
      "We had to do every day a half-hour longer to make up for the Saturdays," Dad pointed out. "Our teachers were mostly not Jewish, though. There were a few Jewish teachers, but mostly not."
       In addition, there was involvement in Jewish youth groups, such as B'yat Israel, which Dad was a member of until age 14; there was Hebrew school; and there was the family's part in Jewish neighborhood groups.
       "I was going to Hebrew school for five or six years," Dad recalled. "After 4 o'clock, we had to be there until 5 or 6 o'clock for Hebrew school. And that was [held] in the public school. ... They called [the teacher] Rabbi DeHondt -- he had a big beard -- and we go every day, and on Sunday morning.
       What did he remember about it? "Not too much. I forgot all my Hebrew from that time," he said, with a laugh.
       Meanwhile, his parents -- while not Orthodox Jews -- observed the Jewish holidays and were involved in Jewish activities.
       They were, as Dad recalled, members of the chevra kadisha -- a special group of volunteers, a so-called "holy society" whose role was to care for the dead, to prepare the bodies for burial in a Jewish cemetery.
       "Everyone was a member of the chevra kadisha," Dad said, "and at Pesach (Passover), you got free matzos for every apartment and every family. That was the only thing we got out of that.
       "Then my mother was a member of a different organization [that received] eggs or groceries at Pesach. ... And you'd see kids with all new clothes, at Purim, at Chanukah, we got the presents, [but] not with Christmas. You didn't get a bunch of presents, like [the kids] do here [in the United States] ... but you'd get clothes maybe, some boys did sometimes."

The young Louis Van Thyn, second from the left
      Here was something else about Dad, and this, too, I've written several times previously: He loved sports, even as a young man. In that way, perhaps, he was different from his older brother, who was a hiker and a biker but not into athletics.
       Dad loved it all -- voetbal (soccer), basketball, track and field, swimming, whatever.
       The young man, second from the left in this picture -- the nerdy, geeky looking one (long before nerd and geek were part of the language) with the glasses and the bony legs -- that's Dad in a soccer uniform.
       Don't know what kind of athlete he was, but I know he was a willing one, and anyone who knew him knows he was not a nerd nor a geek. But athletic-looking then, in the mid-1930s ... no.
       Another significant part of Dad's growing-up experience in those days was the De Vries van Buuren & Co., by then a 100-year-old major textile wholesale firm located right in the heart of my parents' neighborhood. By 1927, it was a complex of buildings near the Rembrandt House.
       Several of Dad's aunt and uncles worked for the company; so did Dad's mother, sewing pants at home and often using Dad to transport them back via his bicycle.
       Soon enough, Dad was working there, delivering the ready-made garments to shopkeepers, hawkers and market traders.
       "We [Hyman and him] went to the regular school until sixth grade, then we went to trade school," Dad recalled. "My brother learned cabinet making, and I learned woodwork, too, in the trade school. But when I was 14, I started working -- it was in the middle of the Depression. We had to start working real young; there was no time to go to school any more."
       Again, the Jewish influence and neighborhood was a factor.
       The De Vries van Buuren was, Dad remembered, "a Jewish company, there were 300 Jewish people working there. There were only four gentiles working, and on Saturday, only the watchmen were there. It was closed on Saturday [the Sabbath], and we worked on Sunday."
       And while anti-Semitism and the German threat were growing in the mid-1930s, Dad and his family felt little of that.
       "There were no problems with the non-Jewish people [at the company]," Dad replied to a question by the interviewer. "They were much older than me, and we had nothing to do with them."
       In addition, "We had many gentile friends, and we never had trouble with those kinds of people. There was no anti-Semitism in Holland, as far as I know, in that time. ... Amsterdam had about a million people and there were something like 55,000 Jews. There were no Reform shuls [synagogues], 15 to 20 strictly Orthodox shuls, and maybe one small liberal temple."
       But times would soon change. By then, Dad was a diamond-cutting apprentice and living in Belgium.
       Next: Leaving home


Monday, July 22, 2013

You can't believe what 'Blabs' says

         "I look to the future with Jason [Garrett], not just through his contract that we're sitting here with right now. I think he has a couple of years left on his contract, but that's not a thought. It is not what is implied when you say, 'This is an Armageddon year for him.' It's not that with me."  -- Jerry Jones, on Saturday talking about his latest Dallas Cowboys head coach
          Oh, sure, Jerry, we believe you.
          No, we don't. We think you're full of it. Well, actually, we think you're full of yourself, too.
          OK, I vowed not to do a blog piece on this, but Mr. Jones leaves me no choice. I'm going back on my word because I know my subject matter does the same.
          So I'm going to criticize him (as if it matters). Gosh, how unusual.
          It's an easy blog because he's an easy target. In short, his football "smarts" are a joke and the team he owns and (unfortunately) runs as general manager -- I'm sad to say -- is a joke, and has been for several years now.
          The Dallas Cowboys, and I never thought it would come to this, are what the New Orleans Saints were for so long -- one of the NFL's laughingstock teams.
This sour expression, after last season's final loss to the
Washington Redskins, is how we feel about Jerry Jones'
general manager's role with the Cowboys (Getty Images)
             Hey, no one -- I promise you -- wants to see the Cowboys win another Super Bowl, or ten, more than I do. But I cannot watch this team, and I cannot read the daily newspapers or watch the local TV stations or, for damn sure, listen to the radio talk shows. Because invariably the subject is Jerry Jones.
              And I wish, for gosh's sakes, that he would just shut up.
              He reminds me of all those glory years when George M. Steinbrenner III owned the New York Yankees, and dominated the news. How many times over those years did I write in a newspaper column or say in public that Mr. Bluster should just get the hell out of the way.
               How many times have I said that about Jerry Jones? Me, and thousands of Cowboys' fans, and the media.
               Because Jerry reminds me so much of George. George was Mr. Bluster; Jerry is Blabs.
               He blabs and blabs and blabs, and really, you can't believe so much of what he says. At least he's no longer predicting the Cowboys will make it to the Super Bowl, or have a great chance to win it. I mean, you can only look stupid for how many years?
                When he says, as he has in the past, that the Cowboys have "Super Bowl talent," it's laughable. What that means is, hey, I've done my job; if we don't win, it's not my fault.
               And if you hear that crap about how his Cowboys won those three Super Bowls back in the early 1990s, just two words for him: Jimmy Johnson.
               Give Jerry credit for making millions, in oil and gas and in football. Give him credit for willingness to spend millions on this football team, and for helping change the way business is done in the NFL. He's a marketing whiz, a wheeler-dealer in business. I've read often that he is great company, a generous man.
                Give him credit for giving the media, and fans, so much material to rip him.
               Also give him credit for one playoff victory in 16 years (and a 34-3 loss the next week). Give him credit for poor personnel decisions, year after year after year after year. Doesn't know what he's doing, nor apparently do the people (coaches) around him -- except maybe Bill Parcells almost a decade ago. Doesn't want to get out of the way because, as has been pointed out often, he's a football genius.
               (Now Jimmy Johnson knew how to pick a staff, and more importantly, players, how to motivate them and how to coach them. So did Parcells, but only to an extent, as long as Jerry didn't interfere. Hello, Terrell Owens.)          
               Sure, the Cowboys have had some outstanding players; they have some now. They have a quarterback who Mr. Jones insists is one of the NFL's "elite" QBs, and some days Tony Romo is. But at least three-four games a year, he's a so-so QB, or even a poor QB. He's mistake-prone; he always has been; and he saves that for some of the biggest games each season. Plus, he's been injury-prone.
                 But what the Cowboys also have, every year, is problem areas -- safety, defensive line, offensive line, etc. What they've become, and I have said and written this repeatedly, is Murphy's Law's team. Whatever can go wrong -- injuries (especially to some of those star players), bad breaks, bad bounces, strange calls, players driving drunk and killing people -- does.
                  Just read that, after one day of training-camp conditioning drills, at least 10 Cowboys are hurt and can't practice. One is out for the season already.
                   Jason Garrett hasn't helped. Sure, he's bright and dedicated and thinks he knows how to win. He's also boring; he talks in cliches and says exactly what you'd expect, reveals little, and he has made some well-chronicled strategy mistakes during games. He's proven to be an 8-8 coach.
                   We're rooting for him. But, frankly, he was also -- surprisingly -- a boring play-caller. Maybe that's why Jerry insisted that someone else (offensive line coach Bill Callahan) call plays this season.
                    But it really doesn't matter who coaches the Cowboys, who the coordinators are, who calls plays. Because as long as Jerry is around, and wants to know exactly who's doing what and has a say-so in that, the results will be the same. We have lots of years of proof now.
                    What he needs to do is not only shut up, but get totally out of the way (and his sons, too), let his coaches coach and, more importantly, let other people scout and pick his football players. And still contribute as much Jones family money as he wants.
                    I am sick of seeing Jerry in front of the cameras and mikes. But he can't help himself. He loves the attention; he craves it.
                    It is a given that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Cowboys' beat writer will have a Jerry Jones quote in every game story; he feels compelled to do that ... as if it matters. I know this for a fact; I edited enough of those stories. But all the media treats Jerry that way; as if his words should be printed in Cowboys' blue ink.
                   The only time Jerry doesn't show up is after a particularly embarrassing loss (and there have been too many), just like his team didn't show up. My observation: Win or lose, I don't care what he says. it makes no difference. He still sounds like a country hick, and you can't believe him anyway.
                     Because when he insists that Jason Garrett's job is safe this season, remember Wade Phillips. Week after week in the first half of the 2010 season, Jerry insisted he would not fire Wade during the season. Even on the Friday before the Cowboys fell to 1-7, Jerry said that. Three days later, he fired Wade.
                     So if the Cowboys start 2-4 or 2-5 or 2-6, or worse -- and those are possibilities -- and if Romo is injured and out for the season, as in 2010, what then?
                   Blabs is just blabbing. That, not running a winning football team, is what he does best.
                   I wish it weren't so.                  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dealing with the passing days

       It happens, if not daily then certainly weekly: Someone we know has passed away.
       I've written about death in this blog -- often perhaps -- and maybe it has led to some people asking to leave the mailing list. But this is a reality and my wife will tell you that it is one of several things about which I obsess.
       One of the first things I do each morning is check The Shreveport Times' web site for the obituaries. I've had friends with whom I grew up, tell me they do the same. 
       What they also tell me is that almost each day there is someone's obit that they knew directly -- sometimes family, but more often a friend, a former schoolmate, a former coach or teacher, a parent of a friend, a brother or sister of a friend, a former business associate, etc.
        We have been to more funerals the past five years or so than I care to count, and there have been funerals that distance or circumstance have prevented us from attending.
         It is a reality that as we grow older -- and even as we enjoy life in the early days of retirement from work -- we also deal increasingly with these losses. In the past year, for instance, there have been at least a half dozen deaths of people with early 1960s Woodlawn High School connections. 
         There is always a sense of sadness for me, but also with many of the more personal ones, the pride of having known them. Because they enriched our lives.
          Within the past week, we lost two such men in Shreveport.
         Frank Thaxton Jr. and Joseph Cassiere were both 90, part of the "greatest generation" -- American soldiers during World War II. Both fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers for whom family and church were their greatest priorities, both contributors to their community in a variety of ways.
         Both, whenever I saw them, always upbeat and positive, and just downright friendly. And both always interested in you and yours.
         Neither death, of course, was unexpected, at age 90. Both had been declining for a few months. Still, the losses hurt.
          Frank was a longtime family friend; he was -- as I noted in a previous blog -- an honorary Dutchman. As a U.S. soldier after World War II, he was attached to the U.S. embassy in Holland, in The Hague (Den Haag) and he met a Dutch girl, Ann, married her and brought her home to Shreveport.
           Ann and Frank became two of my parents' closest friends, for more than 50 years dating to the Thaxtons' move to Sunset Acres in 1956 (we would soon follow).
Frank Thaxton Jr.
           Ann survives, one of the three remaining members of the Dutch community we knew. She, too, is one of those admirable people full of love and understanding, and she saw Frank through several significant health challenges over the years.
           Frank wasn't one to talk about those challenges; he always played them down. He also talked little about being an infantryman during the Battle of the Bulge. But he talk about and took pride in veterans' affairs and works in Shreveport for many, many years.
           He was in the banking business, in the computer end of it, and one of my friends who worked with him said, "We were great friends and had a lot of laughs together. I had not seen him in a long time but this world lost a fine man."
           A fine family man, too. The most touching part of Frank's memorial service was when great-granddaughter Isabella Gray, not yet in her teens, came to the lecturn and read a tribute, leaving more than a few of us in tears. 
           Frank Jr. and Ann's only child, Frank III, is an attorney and retired judge, and remains a close family friend. He and my younger sister Elsa bonded as kids, and they're still close. Believe me, Frank Jr. was so proud of "little Frank," as we knew him.
           And now there are two more Frank Thaxtons in the family. Quite a heritage.
           Joseph Cassiere was an elementary school teacher and then principal -- at several schools, mostly in the Queensborough area -- and a kids' coach in several sports. My first connection with him came in the mid-1960s when his St. Theresa's Catholic Church baseball teams played at SPAR Stadium where I was the P.A. announcer and scorer.
           I must've pronounced Cassiere a dozen different ways (I will now guess Cass-e-air).

Joseph Cassiere
           Nearly a decade later, the youngest of the five Cassiere kids, Edward, was a statistician for Jesuit High School's athletic teams, and I recruited him to help us at The Shreveport Times compiling area high school statistics.
           Ed became one of Louisiana's best sports writers -- at the Shreveport Journal -- and then an excellent sports information director. At the Journal, we called him our EOE -- expert on everything. 
            We called his dad "Big Joe." Well, we did at the office. In person, he was Mr. Cassiere.
             Big Joe loved to talk sports, especially Notre Dame football, was an avid trapshooter at one time, and until he could manage it no more, played golf as often as he could. He was a regular at Querbes Park, Shreveport's most popular public course. He could've been mayor at Querbes.
             He was steady and kind and gentle -- just read the tributes from his former students on the obituary guest book on The Times' web site -- and he was downright determined.
              After he lost sweet Miss Louise in 2007, he remained in the big house on Portland Avenue, right across the street from St. Theresa's, the house where the Cassiere kids grew up. It was, for several years now, the only house left in what has turned into the Willis-Knighton North Hospital complex. Big Joe wasn't leaving.
              But finally, his health worsened, and only a couple of months ago he went to The Glen assisted living facility ... until this week.
              There's no greater tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Cassiere than those five kids, all accomplished in medicine and law (yes, even Ed the sportswriter), and their respective families.
              I will miss these men. They, and their families, have been on my mind all week, which is why I'm writing this.  Bea can tell you that the grieving process affects me, perhaps more than most people, but I am not sorry about that.  
              Yes, I know that death is a part of living, and it's inevitable. We can't escape the everyday reality, and the lesson is to make the most of each day. But, dang it, it's hard to say good-bye.             

Monday, July 15, 2013

All-Star Game? No, it's a joke

    This is about baseball, about the All-Star Game, so if you're not a fan, you can stop here. Thank you.
    Those few of you still with me ...
    Look, as if my opinion out here in the wilderness makes any difference, here is what I'm going to say. baseball's All-Star Game, once the best All-Star Game in North America's major sports, now is as big a joke as any of them.
The worst All-Star Game ending, 2002: Commissioner
 Bud Selig, center, with managers Joe Torre, left, and
 Bob Brenly, trying to explain why the game ended in a tie
 after 12 innings. Look at those grim expressions. (
    I don't even bother with the NFL Pro Bowl -- especially now that it's played before the Super Bowl. The NBA All-Star Game? All glitz, no defense. No effort on defense until maybe the final 30 seconds ... if the game is close. It rarely is. NHL All-Star Game? They change the format every year, and they still score 20 goals. Who cares?
    But this is baseball, and I love it, and I want to care. But how can I?
    I used to watch the game regularly and, when the American League won, enjoy it. Which means I rarely enjoyed it in the 1960s, '70s and '80s (the National League won 26 of 31 games between 1960 and 1983.)
    Here's what I did in those days. As soon as the NL took the lead, I turned off the game. No matter how many Yankees players were in the AL lineup. How's that for being a frontrunner?
    The American League has done better recently, with winning streaks of six years and then 12 in a row around the infamous tie in 2002 (more on that in a moment). Much better.
    Now, though, the National has won the past three games. I might boycott again.
    But it's not so much the results that turn me off; it's the whole approach: The fans' voting; the much-too-large rosters; the managers' maniacal bent on using every one of those players; the fact that every team has to be represented; the stupid World Series homefield advantage goes to the league that wins the All-Star Game.
    I even have some solutions ... if only Major League Baseball's deep thinkers would pay attention.
    -- I have 1,330,334 reasons why fans' voting is often ridiculous. That's how many votes Derek Jeter received this year; he was sixth in AL shortstop voting.
    It is 1,330,334 more votes than Jeter should have received. I think even he would tell you that.
    You must know I'm not Jeter-bashing; he's my favorite player these days, and has been for years. Mariano Rivera is my co-favorite.
    But Jeter, because of the left ankle he's had breaks in twice since October, had not played a game in the majors this season until Thursday. So why vote for him? Because he was listed on the ballot?
    He's been an All-Star 13 times, elected to start at shortstop eight times, including the previous seven seasons. Jeter probably would tell you that a couple of those years he didn't deserve it.
    -- Most years, including this one, the fans choose as starters the players who most deserve it. But there are cases when the starter is simply the popular choice, not the deserving one. Do fans "stuff" the ballot box at some ballparks, some cities? Sure. Never, though, like 1957 in Cincinnati, which is why MLB took away fans' voting -- left the choices to players, coaches and managers -- from 1958 to '69. Fans' voting resumed in 1970.
    It's nice to get the fans involved, but my problem is it gives them too much say-so.
    Since 1970, I have always advocated that All-Star voting should be a three-way deal: (1) The fans; (2) players, coaches and managers; (3) the media. Yes, the media ... say, four media representatives for each ballclub -- a total of 120 voters.
    The few media guys I know covering major league baseball -- Phil Rogers, Jeff Wilson, T.R. Sullivan, Evan Grant -- know what they're doing, what they're seeing, who is deserving and who isn't. If the media is good enough to select Baseball Hall of Fame members, why not a yearly All-Star vote?
    So if you have players/coaches/managers and the media voting, you have much more input and more knowledgable blocs. And if it is a split decision at a position -- three separate choices -- then let the fans' vote be the tiebreaker, still giving the fans some power.
    -- Size of the teams: Why do we have to have 33-man rosters? Why do the managers think all these guys have to play? It's too much. I can't stand the way the lineups are constantly shifted after the required three-inning limit for starters. Can't stand seeing nine pitchers work an inning apiece (the AL last year) or 11 pitchers for nine innings (NL last year, even with starter Matt Cain working two innings -- the only pitcher in the game to be used for more than one inning).
    Plus, this new deal of pitchers who pitch on the Sunday before the All-Star Game not being eligible to pitch a little on Tuesday ... again, just ridiculous. For 78 years, no one thought of that. Surely, they can throw an inning or two.
    So you've got pitchers ineligible, and you've got injured players pulling out, and it's confusing, and it's certainly not the best teams either league could field. And then you've got the lineups being shuffled through the game.
    Require the starting lineup to play at least five innings, maybe six. If these guys deserve starting so much, if the All-Star voting is such a big deal, let's see 'em play much or all of the game. I wish the managers would play to really win the game, and not try so hard to get everyone in the game.
    Just the other day I read that Joe DiMaggio played every inning of every All-Star Game from his rookie season in 1936 through 1942. That's what I'm talking about.
    Take one position as an example: American League catcher. Joe Mauer (Twins) is a good pick as the starter, but Salvador Perez (Royals) and Jason Castro (Astros) as the backup choices? In the fans' voting, neither of those guys were among the top eight.
    When the game is on the line in the late innings -- if it's on the line -- I want Mauer in the lineup. I'm sure Perez and Castro are good young men, and I looked up their stats and they're both having good seasons, but frankly, are they All-Star caliber?
    And why should every team be represented? Some don't necessarily deserve it -- this year the Marlins, the Astros, White Sox, Cubs, Brewers, maybe even the Mets and Mariners. Some of the more successful teams don't really need five or six players selected.
    Again, it's too much.
    I know smaller rosters and few substitutions is a throwback. But watching this parade of players is a bore.
    -- Finally, this homefield advantage thing. It came about because in 2002, the respective managers (the beloved Joe Torre, AL, and Bob Brenly, NL) didn't plan ahead for extra innings; used up all their pitchers; and with commissioner Bud Selig, decided that 11 innings and a tie game was enough, satisfying absolutely no one.
    So, as an added incentive, Selig & Co. decided that starting in 2003, homefield advantage in the World Series would go to the team from the league that won the All-Star Game. It's one way to do it. Plus, they wisely designate a pitcher (or two) to save for a long extra-inning battle.
    But why can't baseball award homefield advantage for playoff series to teams with the best regular-season records -- just like every other major sport here (NFL, NBA, NHL) does? Is that too easy?
    Put in a tiebreaker system -- head-to-head results, best record vs. first-place teams, best record vs. second-place teams, etc. And if the AL and NL teams that make the World Series had the same regular-season record, then use the All-Star Game winner as the tiebreaker. That way, it still might be meaningful.
   (I also question the lack of significant homefield advantage for a division champion playing the wild-card team in the playoffs, and I question the new second wild-card playoff entry ... but those are other blogs.)
   So there, I have solved the All-Star Game joke/boredom. Please alert the proper authorities. Maybe some day I'll care again.              

Sunday, July 14, 2013

O.K. is everybody's Buddy

O.K. "Buddy" Davis
        It's easy to say that O.K. "Buddy" Davis is one of Louisiana's most popular sportswriters, for several reasons:
       (1) He's very good at what he does; (2) he's been around forever; (3) he's always working; and (4) he's one of the nicest people anywhere.
      He has been sports editor of the Ruston Daily Leader since he was in high school -- a mere 49 years. He knows more about high school sports in that area and in Louisiana, and about Louisiana Tech and Grambling State athletics than anyone I know.
      He is, as our friend Judy Smart pointed out to me earlier this week, a living history book, with a comedic touch, too.
      He is a year older than me, and we were good friends in school at Louisiana Tech in the mid to late 1960s. We're still good friends. But Buddy has thousands of friends.
      And, right now, he needs our prayers and our help.
      Because last weekend, Buddy suffered what appears to be a stroke at his home in Ruston -- the home where he's lived alone since his parents died -- and he's hospitalized  with paralysis on his left side.
      Fortunately, he seems as sharp mentally as ever; he's in good spirits, and he hasn't lost his sense of humor.
      Recovery and rehab could be lengthy, and it could be a while before he can return to his house, which is in need of some repair. Rick Hohlt, editor of the Ruston Daily Leader, has been one of several people very involved in looking after Buddy the past few days, and he has set up a fund to help with expenses.
      Those interested in making a donation can send it to ... 

Buddy Davis Community Fund
c/o Rick Hohlt
P. O. Box 520
Ruston, LA 71273
      Four years ago when Buddy received the Distinguished Service in Journalism Award from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, I wrote a piece for publication in the Ruston Daily Leader. Below is a reprint of that piece:

Buddy, at a news conference during the recent
 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame ceremonies.
      O.K. "Buddy" Davis and Ruston have been a perfect double-play combination.
      For more than 40 years, Buddy has chronicled the athletic achievements of Ruston High School, Cedar Creek, Louisiana Tech, Grambling and assorted other sports figures and teams from Lincoln Parish and the surrounding area.
      One sportswriter, one job.
      It's remarkable, considering the job-hopping many in newspapers and athletics have done.
      He would have been successful in a lot of markets, but he chose to stay home and remain loyal to the Ruston Daily Leader and it has remained loyal to him.
      Those of us who have known him -- some of us for almost 40 to 50 years -- are thrilled that he will receive the Distinguished Service to Sports Journalism award for Louisiana next month at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame ceremonies in Natchitoches.
          He richly deserves it --- as a writer, a photographer, a walking library book of athletics in his community and Louisiana.
      Not only has Buddy done the job well, he's practically done it by himself. And he's done it in a way that is no longer the way sports journalism is done these days. In a business full of egos and abrasiveness and cynicism and sarcasm, Buddy fits none of those categories.
      He's pretty much the same as he was at Ruston High and Louisiana Tech in the 1960s -- dedicated and hard-working and likeable, almost naive-like in his approach to life If he had tough stories to report, he did it, but without making enemies, without tearing down someone or some institution.
      The late Eddie Robinson was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying Buddy "was like a son to me."
      And Coach Robinson is just one of the many, many coaches and athletes who were
friends of Buddy's. If they came through Ruston and Tech and Grambling, he remembers them -- and he probably has a few stories he can tell (or write) on them.

      In fact, if you know Buddy, you that one of his traits is name-dropping, as in, "I talked to Bert the other day"...."I talked to Scotty," ... "I talked to Shack Harris,"..."I talked to Karl," ..."talked to Doug Williams"...."I talked to Terry."
      And he hasn't slowed down. He remains a prolific writer and worker and a willing one.
      "The thing about it is that I truly still love what I do," he wrote recently in an e-mail. "I still enjoy, like a kid, getting into writing stuff. Sometimes, honestly, I get antsy sleeping at night because I am formulating some lead or angle to a story. I guess, seriously, that's what we all need to try and do sometimes. Makes whatever profession we're in more enjoyable."
     When you're talking about Orville Kince (O.K.) "Buddy" Davis, no doubt he's been in the right profession in the right place.

    NOTE: Bank accounts in Buddy Davis' name have been established at Community Trust Bank, the Bank of Ruston and First National Bank. To donate, tell a bank teller you'd like to donate to Davis' account.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The end for Mister Louie's place

      The message came by e-mail on May 24, and it was entitled, "Here's some news ..."
       It was only a picture, the one you see to the left ... OUT OF BUSINESS.
       Not good news. Not totally unexpected.
       A.A. Gilbert Pipe & Supply Co., LLC -- closed. It had operated for 74 years, since Abe A. Gilbert came from Fort Worth in 1939 and set up shop at 4037 Mansfield Road in Shreveport.
       It's been a family business -- run by Mr. Gilbert from its inception to his death in April 1966, then by one of his sons-in-law, Lazar Murov, and for the past 17 years by Bill Braunig, who married one of Mr. Gilbert's granddaughters, and Ron Nierman, one of Mr. Gilbert's grandsons. (It was Ron who sent me the message.)
       It was our family's business, too, in a sense. For 28 years, it was where Louis Van Thyn worked. It was Dad's place. It was Mister Louie's place.
       So, yes, this business going out of business left me a little sad and nostalgic. I'm not alone.
       Bill's title was sales manager; Ron's was manager of operations. Both had been involved in the business for 30-plus years, almost half their lives.
       "I feel very bad," Bill told me this weekend. "I'm upset because I was managing the pipe business, and it's been there a long time. But it's not going to work anymore, and there was no use losing more money on it."
       The bottom line: (1) Business fell off because, for one thing, people dealing in pipe were moving out of North Louisiana because the Haynesville Shale, as Bill explained, was a "dry play," not much liquid involved, thus little or no need for drilling pipe; (2) there was no one in the family who wanted to carry on the business; (3) the cost of overhead -- insurance, property tax, maintenance of equipment and meeting payroll, and more -- was too much to maintain.
       They dealt in steel pipe, some new but mostly used, second-hand pipe, oil field pipe and road casing pipe, and pipe you could use to build a fence or put up a sign, and they dealt in scrap iron. They made deals with oil and gas companies, and the offshoot was some shares in the oil business.
       The small deals, an individual or small firm, coming to the yard and purchasing some pipe, didn't bring enough income, not when it required people to find the pipe, clean the pipe, or cut it, lift it or carry it, load it on a truck, or drive a truck.
       Sure, it was a small business -- only nine employees -- but also an aging one. Almost all the employees were in their 60s or older.
       "It was inevitable that at some time we would have to close," Bill said. "Too much of a drain on the bottom line to cover our expenses.
       "This is the right thing to do, the right time."
       Actually, because of sheer loyalty, it probably was a few years past due.
       Bill will continue in business, but only as a broker, d/b/a WMB Pipe Limited, lining up deals between firms in the Ark-La-Tex or beyond and hiring commercial trucks to move the pipe. And, for now, Bill and Ron will continue to work from the old office and yard on Mansfield Road.  
       The job was waiting for Dad when we arrived in Shreveport in January 1956. Mr. Gilbert -- the benevolent Mr. Gilbert -- had offered it to the Shreveport Jewish Federation as part of the sponsorship for an immigrant family.
       (The joke, told often by Dad, was that when he heard he was going to work for a pipe company, he thought that meant smoking pipes.)
       I've written about the job, and the Gilbert family (April 23, 2012):  In short: Dad became the yard foreman.
       He was in charge of the yard crew and, as Mr. Gilbert had done so often, in charge of getting pipe organized and loaded on trucks. He was often on the road, all over East Texas, South Arkansas, North Louisiana, South Louisiana (Grand Isle is about as far south as you can go), inspecting pipe, making the arrangements for deals.
       I made a few of the shorter road trips with Dad, and really, I never got how it worked, how they made money. He tried to explain it to me often, and once when I was in high school maybe, he suggested I could follow him into the business. But sports, and sportswriting, was far more appealing, and that was OK with Dad, sports fan that he was.
       Of course, there were hundreds of visit to see him at the yard for a variety of purposes. As you came in the front door of the main building, his desk was to the left in the front office.
       One vivid memory: From May 1970 until the day he left, he had a copy of my first column for The Shreveport Times -- on Fair Park's state championship baseball team -- under the glass covering on his desk.
Dad's retirement day at A.A. Gilbert
 Pipe & Supply;  that's our Rachel,
 almost 5 then, presenting a gift.
        Another memory: The yard crew -- the "boys." Looking back, it was a politically incorrect term, but common in Shreveport 1950s and '60s. These were men, some of them hard-working, some not. They called him "Mister Louie," and he depended on them. And they knew they could depend on Mister Louie.
        Some of Dad's guys that I remember: Big Willie, Little Willie, Clarence Jelks, and especially "Sam." Everyone called him Sam; his name was Benjamin Franklin (honestly). Dad loved him as much as anyone in the company.
        Sam was a big guy, maybe 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, same age as Dad. As soft-spoken, and polite, and genteel as could be. He, and some of the others, would come to our house and help with projects. My mother would invite them in for water or coffee; Sam, brought up in the segregated world, seldom, if ever, would come in the house.
        In a neat twist, when Green Oaks High School opened in 1972, the starting quarterback on its first football team was Benjamin Franklin -- Sam's son. So I got to write stories that put his name in the paper a few times. It was small payback for all that big Sam had done for us.
        I could write a separate blog on Abe Gilbert, but I'm going to limit it to this. He was an old-fashioned businessman, not all that organized, but full of energy, full of optimism, a good trader, a great dealmaker (even if he didn't write it all down) and -- above all -- totally generous.
        Generous, perhaps, to an extravagance he couldn't afford. But the Van Thyn family certainly can vouch for how generous he was.
         "My grandfather was maybe not as wealthy as it seemed," said Mark Murov. "But he was a high-rolling, bigger-than-life person."
         Mark remembers the pockets full of change Mr. Gilbert had for his grandkids (and other kids) and the people in business he kept on as "stringers" and employees he kept on even if they didn't exactly earn their keep. He was a beneficiary because he, too, had benefitted from others' generosity.
          Mark remembers Ron Nierman, as a boy, saying he wanted to be like Grandpa: "A big tipper."
          Bill Braunig, who joined the family a few years after Mr. Gilbert's death, said he heard often that "he was a terrific salesman, and he was a kind person. He really cared about people."
          I can vouch for that.
          Dad's last day at work, in April 1984, was very special for us. They had a party for him and among the gifts was a Seiko watch with an inscription on the back: "To Louie, from the Gilbert family." I keep that watch in the drawer by our bed; I'm looking at it now.
         That day, one of Mr. Gilbert's daughters remarked, "We thought Louie would be here only six weeks or so. He stayed 28 years."
         I also kept my Dad's powder blue A.A. Gilbert work shirt. It now fits me perfectly. Just a few weeks ago on Father's Day (also my birthday this year), I wore that shirt as a tribute to Dad. I intend to do that every Father's Day.
         And, now, it also will be a tribute to the company my Dad, and many others, loved so much.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

If summer is endless, that's OK

One of our favorite boyhood places: The baseball/softball diamond and, in
 the background, the domedbasketball court near Oak Terrace. (SPAR photo)
       Walking out of the bookstore and toward the yogurt shop one day last week, it was 100-plus degrees ... in the shade. When I noted to the person walking beside me that "it is a bit warm," he said, "I like it like this."
      Me, too. I love summer. Always have, even back to the days in Sunset Acres; yes, before air conditioning.
      Don't mind the 100-degree days. I try to take my daily walk earlier in the day, and I take my bottled water and stop and refill when needed, but I'd much rather walk in the heat than in the cold, and certainly much prefer the heat over any kind of significant wind.
       The living is easy in summer, as the song from the opera/movie Porgy and Bess says. No school, no pressure, no agenda ... and lots of baseball. How good can life be?
       If summer never ended, that would be OK with me. If I was close enough to a pond or lake so I could go fishing on summer days, that would be even better.
       Yes, our enchanting mistress -- football -- with her violent nature, awaits, but I can do without for a couple more months. (I'll be ready to watch by Aug. 31, promise; as for the NFL season, considering the state of the Cowboys, why bother?)
       But summer brings out my nostalgic side, thinking of those days as a kid. Bear with me.
       In planning this piece, I got to thinking about summer songs. A few come to mind immediately, but then I did a little checking. So here's a list of my favorites, which includes a bunch of '50s, '60s and '70s hits, all with "summer" in the title:
       Summertime (from Porgy and Bess); Crazy Days of Summer (Nat King Cole); Summertime, Summertime (sum, sum, summertime) (The Jamies); Summer in the City (The Lovin' Spoonful); In The Summertime (Mungo Jerry ... Mungo Jerry?); Hot Fun in the Summertime (Sly & The Family Stone); Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts); A Summer Song (Chad and Jeremy); Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran); Theme From a Summer Place (instrumental, Percy Faith Orchestra; vocal, The Lettermen or Andy Williams or ...); Summer Nights (John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Grease).
       And the beautiful, haunting movie Summer of '42, with its memorable theme song, and its beautiful star, Jennifer O'Neill. I always wish I could have been her co-star.
       And your favorite is ...
       The kids, now grown-up kids, on the Facebook pages Sunset Acres Elementary School and Sunset Acres Neighborhood, reminded me of some of what is was like in those carefree days of the 1950s and '60s.
       One friend joked that at the start of summer he'd kick off his shoes and wouldn't wear them again until early September when school started back. My wife says they didn't even have shoes out where she lived in rural Jamestown (she's kidding ... I think).
       If houses had air conditioning, it might be one or two window units. So what? We rarely stayed inside. We were always out playing in the street or on the school grounds looking for a pickup baseball game, or as I've written previously, playing wiffle ball in the middle of 100-degree days.
       Riding our bikes, covering every street of the neighborhood and beyond. Riding, always riding.
       Stopping daily at the new bowling alley or the new branch library, or waiting -- impatiently -- for the sound of the ice cream truck, that had those push-up sherberts and Eskimos Pies and Dixie cups, etc. Loved those treats.
       Daily knocks on the door in early summer from "recruiters" for Vacation Bible School or from the young Mormon students on their missions. Daily loud sonic booms, or so it seemed (always disconcerting). 
       How about the fog machines running the neighborhood in early evenings, spreading pesticides to combat the mosquitos? Sunset Acres needed them because the canal -- our infamous canal -- was a breeding ground. But kids running behind the foggers? Not me, thank you.
       SPAR had recreational facilities around town where you could play checkers, or shuffleboard, or ping-pong. But the best recreation was swimming.
       So many of us learned to swim at the Cedar Grove pool; that was the closest Shreveport Parks and Recreation (SPAR) facility then. Then in about 1960, SPAR built a pool and a covered (half-dome) basketball court and a kids baseball/adult softball field right next to Oak Terrace Junior High, which opened in the fall 1959. How lucky for us.
       Can't tell you how many hours we spent playing basketball on that court, with the metal backboards and chain nets -- just me, Johnny Tucker and Terry Tucker in one-on-one battles. Can't tell you how many nights I watched SPAR baseball games (midget leagues, ages 9-12) and fastpitch softball games at that Oak Terrace diamond.
       More on softball in a moment. Of all the things summer meant to me, baseball was the best.  Still is.
       First to follow your team, in my case, the New York Yankees -- on TV, maybe on the Game of the Week (yes, one game a week on TV), or by reading the newspaper daily. Still nothing like following that one team's every-day adventures, from April through October.
       For us, too, in Shreveport, there were the Texas League's Sports through the 1950s and, after a one-year lapse (1958), in the Southern Association (1959-61). We loved those teams and those guys, kept up with them even after they left Shreveport, many of them headed for the major leagues, some for fame, others for so-so careers.
       Pro baseball went away for six years, then returned in '68, and we kept rooting for the Braves, Captains, Swamp Dragons, whatever, each summer. I would go from being a Knothole Gang kid  to covering the team as a sports writer and, for four years, working parttime for the team.
       Many of Shreveport's boys of the '50s and '60s played Midget ball, then Junior B. At most of the familiar parks around town -- Cedar Grove and Queensborough were the two main sites -- that meant games (with time limits) starting at 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m.
       Oh, those days we had games scheduled, I'd watch the weather, hoping it wouldn't rain. You knew a good afternoon shower meant a rainout (no tarps for those rec fields).
       (Now, with the near-drought conditions in Texas, I wouldn't mind a little rain each day.)
       If you were good enough, you went on to play Junior A ball (15-16-year-olds) at the bigger ballparks such as Centenary and SPAR Stadium. By then, I was keeping score.
       And I would keep score, and begin covering American Legion games for the newspaper, for the next dozen years or so. Then, later in life, I was keeping score for Texas League and Southern League games, and writing about games for newspapers.
       Because of the Oak Terrace diamond, I became a fan of fastpitch softball in the early 1960s. Fastpitch was extremely popular then; a lot of the young men who had grown up playing baseball in the 1940s and '50s gravitated to fastpitch softball. Shreveport's rec leagues were quite competitive.
       Fastpitch was dominated by pitchers, who from 43 feet away, could whip those softballs underhanded that batters were often lucky just to make contact. No radar guns then and I don't know the speeds of the pitches, but I read that it was the equivalent of 125 mph. If you had, say, three or four runs a game, it was a slugfest.
       I'm writing about softball because it reminds me of the Fourth of July. That was the day of the Ark-La-Tex softball tournament.
       Every year, from the early 1950s through the end of the '60s, the Ark-La-Tex softball tournament was THE summer sports event in Shreveport. There would be 40-60 teams from our area and the state and sometimes far beyond playing games from dawn at several locations in town.
       It was a highly coveted event, with the semifinals played at one location and the championship game at night at Princess Park, at the edge of downtown next to SPAR headquarters and the train station.
       The Oak Terrace field was one of the sites for early round games. We'd watch three or four games there and a couple of years, we went downtown to see the title game. One year, 1963, a team from Lecompte, La. -- near Alexandria -- was totally unheralded when it began play at our field, and wound up winning the tournament.
       Fastpitch softball declined in popularity, though, near the end of the 1960s when slowpitch softball became the rage for Everyman. But I can't forget the softball fix on Fourth of July.
       The Yankees are still my priority in sports through the summer and into fall (no matter how long this summer appears to be). Wimbledon's good, and so are golf's  U.S. Open and British Open and, of course, soccer's World Cup every fourth year, but baseball remains my love.
       Summer nowadays means early daily walks, trips to the apartment pool, and reading sessions here at home and at Barnes & Noble just a five-minute walk away, listening to '50s-'60s-'70s, grocery shopping and (not enough) visits with the kids and grandkids. Plus, it's always good to see or talk to old friends.
       And if the weather is hot, and it rains just a little, that's fine with me. Tune up one of those summer songs, please.