Here's an enjoyable follow-up to the piece I wrote about this morning, Daniel Brown's article on being sportswriting competitors with his wife. The update was written by Lisa Bonos of the Washington Post, who wisely called up Susan Slusser to get the other side of the story. You can read that here.
I want to have another Trump-free morning. And this fits the bill as effectively as anything. In fact, it's another baseball story -- but please don't run from it. It's a total joy. And not what you might otherwise think from that description.
This is an article by Daniel Brown, a sportswriter in Northern California for the Bay Area Mercury News, writing about his biggest competition at another local paper, Susan Slusser, who's the beat sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle. And she's a formidable competitor at that -- accomplished, driven, tough, and yet so admired that in 2012, in this male-dominated field, she became the first woman to be elected president of the Baseball Writers Association of American.
One other thing: the two are married.
This is a hilarious, endearing, wonderful, interesting, fun, loving and gracious article. It's titled, "Help! I married my dreaded baseball rival (a love story)."
He writes openly and happily about being regularly scooped by his wife, and shamelessly using her name to develop a rapport with athletes who he knows adore her for her "fairness, accuracy, accountability, comic timing and ferocious work ethic." Among several examples, for instance, he writes, "If I drop her name, players bounce up. I once approached Jose Guillen at his locker and told him I was married to Susan Slusser. He sprang out of his chair to hug me."
There's even a very funny story about the one time he lucked out into scooping his wife. That's a rarity, however, since most of the article is filled with other tales, like the even more amusing story about the rumor of the trade with Stephen Piscotty.
(Personal digression. I love talking about Stephen Piscotty. But not for the reason you think. He used to play for the hated St. Louis Cardinals, the favorite team of the inveterate Chris Dunn. We'd talk about Piscotty often whenever the Cubs would play their despicable rivals, and I finally explained one day why I always liked bringing Piscotty up. It's because his name reminds me of a five-year-old kid trying to say, "spaghetti.")
It's just a terrific article. Do yourself a favor and don't avoid it just because you may not like sports, or baseball. You can read it here.
Yes, this is about baseball and the Chicago Cubs, but I think it's entertaining for most people, regardless. It's about a series a pranks that took place during Spring Training, culminating in a video gem.
Spring Training, of course, is the time when regulars prepare for the coming season, and those on the edge fight for the remaining jobs with the major league club or, in the case of the Cubs, whether a player will get set down to their Triple-A minor league team in Iowa.
But it's also a reasonably light-hearted time. And that was the foundation of the tit-for-tat pranks that were played between Tommy La Stella -- a veteran player, though a back-up for most of his career (and one, who a couple years ago, was in fact sent down to Iowa for a few weeks, much to his disappointment, to the degree that he temporarily retired...though it didn't hold, and he returned, and eventually made it back up to the major league club) -- and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. To be clear, that's formidable opposition, given that Epstein is the team president and Hoyer the General Manger.
The prank wars began mildly enough when La Stella not only parked in Epstein's spot, he parked in a way that took up both both Epstein and Hoyer's spots. They retaliated the next day by taking his uniform from his locker, which forced him to wear a polo shirt and khakis at practice all day. Still, mild stuff.
The day after, Epstein and Hoyer came to the park to find that their spaces had again been appropriated. This time, though, not by La Stella's car, but rather a "bounce house" that he had ordered set up in the lot.
Fun, goofy, elaborate, but still a bit low-key.
And that left it up to the two team executives. And together they put together their plan. A video that would play during an upcoming game.
It required the participation of Anthony Rizzo, the team's leader, who did the narration. And throughout the film there are clips of La Stella answering questions about himself. But it's important to know that those weren't done for the video, but actually they were outtakes from a 2015 promo that the team did. Clips that had never been used, and were just sort of off-beat. So, La Stella had no idea.
Throughout the day, before the game, Rizzo kept going up to La Stella, setting the table, and preparing things beforehand. "Tommy's a perfect candidate to be able to take something like that," Rizzo said. "All day I was telling him that I loved him and 'Tommy, I want you to know I love you and you're a good friend.' I'm buttering him up."
And then at the end of the third inning, La Stella came to the plate and line out into a double-play, ending the evening. As he walked back to the dugout, he passed Rizzo who was next at bat. "He lined out and I'm on deck," Rizzo explained, knowing what was coming in a few seconds, "and I said, 'Hey, this is the reason I've been telling you this all day.'"
And this is the video they ran on the big Jumbotron scoreboard before the fourth inning, for the entire packed stadium to see --
Afterwards, La Stella said, "I should've known. [Rizzo] kept coming up to me the whole day, 'Hey, man, I love you.' I was like, 'I love you, too.' ... [After seeing the video] I was like, 'OK, man, give me a hug. You're wearing me out.' They got me good."
And knowing that this was his bosses, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who were behind the prank, the culmination of a Spring-long prank war that had been ratcheting up -- what was his reaction when La Stella saw that the video board had begun displaying his entire phone number.
"Panic," he said.
The video asks La Stella to nod if he was OK with a truce, and he did.
"That was beautifully done," La Stella said. "It might truly be a touche moment for the time being. That was awesome. I'm glad they chose me."
I only belatedly learned that March 21 had been World Down Syndrome Day. Reading about this last night, I was reminded of when I worked on the 1988 movie, The Seventh Sign, which was back in my dark days as a movie publicist. One of the small roles (although it turns out to be central to the plot) centered around a character with Down Syndrome. It was played by young man named John Taylor, and I got to spend a good amount of time with him, along with his mother and two sisters who came with him to the set.
John was upbeat, friendly, and loved movies, but he especially loved Demi Moore, who was the film's star. When she was shooting a scene, John was there, watching. Always. Two particular things about this stick in my memory.
The first is that later in the production when John finally had his particularly-big scene, everyone was surprised to see Demi there on the soundstage, as well, even though she wasn't in the sequence. It was odd to see since, when actors aren't filming, they're almost always back in their dressing room, resting or working. But Demi was there on set. And when John saw her, he was thrilled, absolutely overjoyed. I remember her explaining to him, "Well, you're always on the set watching me when I'm filming, so it was only fair that I come and watch you." And it wasn't a token appearance for the first shot, which still would have been thoughtful, but she stayed the whole time, probably 45-minutes to an hour.
The other thing I remember related to all this is that on John's last day of filming, Demi bought him a gift. A puppy. As you might imagine, he was thrilled by that, too.
I was able to track down most of that scene. The video quality is a bit soft, but it's fine. In the film, John played a a young man in prison for having killed his parents because he insists God had told him to. (The movie was about prophecies and the end of the world, and this is all tied into that. My recollection is that the parents were pretty high on the Sinners Scale. I'm not saying that that justified them being killed, or even that the son did hear voices, just that that's part of the plot, as well.) In this scene, Michael Biehn played Demi Moore's husband, a lawyer trying to represent the young man who doesn't really want to be represented. Akosua Busia is another lawyer brought in to help.
I was really surprised to see the new ad campaign from Pepsi. It's point is that Pepsi has long been a beverage which everyone for generations has love. Not just today, but your parents loved it and even your grandparents drank it. There's Cindy Crawford's son -- and Cindy Crawford drinking it a decade earlier. There's Britney Spears drinking Pepsi back in 2001. There's Michael Jackson dancing and drinking it in the 1980s. There are your grandparents on a date drinking it. And that's a lovely message, and all well and good --
Except that Pepsi made its BIG breakthrough with "The Pepsi Generation." That it was the cola for today, for the young and hip. Not that old soft drink that your parents drink and people have been drinking for decades. It's a new world, it's the Pepsi Generation!!
And now -- drink Pepsi because your grandparents did???
(And yes, you get bonus points if you recognize the singer there as Joanie Sommers.)
But it's not like they just used that slogan in the '60s. Here's an ad from the 1970s, making the exact same point. That if you're young and hip, you're in the Pepsi Generation.
And the 1980s were the Pepsi Generation, too. And not just the generation of young people, but really young people. Like toddlers.
And then Michael Jackson came along with the latest Pepsi Generation, filled with young kids, the very hippest kids, dressing and dancing like Michael in the streets, making Pepsi the drink of their generation.
And on and on and on, through Britney Spears, Cindy Crawford and more, always the Pepsi Generation of the young -- and very young. And the most hip around.
Until this latest ad, where that's all out the window, and it's now suddenly the soft drink of your mom and dad and your grandparents.
Products change their ad campaigns all the time. And Pepsi has held on to theirs for a really long time, Since the 1960s. That's amazing. So, there's absolutely nothing wrong or even surprising with them doing so. It's just that I don't recall a product coming up with a new campaign that not only says the exact opposite of its previous campaign, but the exact opposite of how it's iconically identified itself for half a century.
Nothing wrong about that at all. Just surprising and worth noting.
I honestly don't have a clue what impact there will be from the March for Our Lives rallies around the country over the weekend. They were impressive in numbers, but how that results in action and voter turnout remains to be seen. However, there are a few observations that I think one can make.
That Trump ran away from Washington, D.C. to Mar-a-Lago and didn't also make a single statement about the rallies was a profound mistake. There are estimates that perhaps 800,000 people came to Washington, which would make it the largest such-rally in U.S. history, and probably several hundred thousand other Americans attended rallies around the country. So, by most-any measure, this clearly is an issue of importance. And in a new poll, 69% of Americans now saw that gun laws should be tightened, the highest number that has ever been. It's not that merely hiding and being silent risks being seen as cowardly or as foolishly disingenuous (given how Trump had earlier slammed a police officer for not running into semi-automatic gunfire inside the school and grandiosely had said how he himself would have done so, only to run away when they very students peacefully came to him), but it removes his voice from the discussion. Anything he says now and especially as the mid-terms near is too late. He's ceded the podium to others. He's most-especially ceded the podium to the high school students who have been eloquent and impactful, but also to public officials and candidates who have been outspoken for years on gun control.
Marco Rubio put out a tweet on the day of the march in which his takeaway on the rallies was basically that while he respected people expressing their First Amendment rights, those very same First Amendment rights were infringing on other people's Second Amendment rights. For all the thoughtful analysis one could make about the issue this past weekend, that does not seem to be a smart or well-advised one. Not only because it misses the point or focuses attention on Rubio's $3 million donations from the NRA, but almost more so because, of all the states in the country, Rubio represents Florida -- the very place where Stoneman Douglas High School is located, in Parkland, Florida. The direct center of the storm that brought all these marches about. A state so pounded by the tragedy that they actually passed gun control laws in its wake -- minimum changes, to be sure, but any change in a state like Florida is significant. And Sen. Rubio (R-FL), who represents these very people, turned a blind eye to it and made his position vocal. It's hard to imagine that the forces who put together rallies of over a million people across the country will forget their own senator in their own backyard who represents them.
Commentator and TV host Hugh Hewitt posted a bizarre tweet that said (and I paraphrase, but only slightly) he doesn't listen to 17-year-olds because they're only 17-years-old and don't know anything, especially about military history, so their voice is meaningless, which is why he would never have a 17-year-old on his radio or TV shows, and he doesn't even remember the stupid things he probably said when he was 17. To start with, when Hewitt was 17, it was 1973, the very year that the Vietnam War finally ended after 17-year-olds and others as young and "ignorant" had taken to the streets for half-a-decade in protest and draft-card burning, ripping at the fabric of society. Moreover, all those protests, marches and rallies had already driven one president from running again, and only a year later another president, Richard Nixon, would resign from office. Yet, Hewitt says he can't remember what stupid things he was thinking at age 17. They must have been pretty stupid and empty to forget all that. Furthermore, it's important to remember that all these people who are today 17 and too empty-headed to even just talk to Hugh Hewitt on his shows, in just one year they will be able to vote for all public officials, including president, and legally buy any gun, including an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon -- and can already join the military to risk their lives defending the country. They're just not old enough to talk to Hugh Hewitt on the radio. Moreover, if one actually did listen to these 17-year-olds who spoke at the rallies -- and those younger -- you'd have heard some very smart and eloquent people. But even if you didn't listen, all you had to do was open your eyes and see that starting from the actions of these 17-year-olds, over a million Americans rallied to their cause. Which brings up the larger point -- this isn't about Hugh Hewitt only, but rather about all the great many conservatives who were equally as publicly dismissive of "the kids." (Including the bizarrely ever-tone deaf Rick Santorum, who suggested that high school students learn CPR for the next gun attack, rather than march.) You close your ears and eyes to voices and actions as substantive as these at your own risk.
Which leads to a final observation.
I don't know if all of this will lead to more voting by younger people than is usual. History shows that younger voters are apathetic in elections, especially mid-terms. But then, most of these past results don't come tied to rallies of a million people. In addition, what history also shows is that when young people do get roused to act for some reason -- usually because they see their lives at risk in some way -- there is, in fact, significant change. It's true that young people don't usually vote or get involved. But when they do, we get the Vietnam protests. We get the Civil Rights protests. We get the Arab Spring. All which changed society. And if you want to go back a lot farther -- this is about what history shows us, after all -- you can place a marker at the French Revolution. That was student driven, lest anyone forgets. I have no idea what will come of this student-driven activity. Perhaps nothing. But to comfortably rely on that, to rely on youthful apathy risks ignoring the brush fires around you that history shows can swell out of your control.
The larger reality of all this is that it's not merely about "the kids." Gun violence has been horrifying the vast majority of Americans for decades. And almost all of them can vote. And are angry enough on this and many issues this year to go to the polls. And many of those 17-year-olds will be able to vote in November. And they and today's 16-year-olds -- you know, the ones who helped show up among the million rallying -- will be able to vote in 2020. And it's about an issue that affects their lives. And affects the lives of anyone who goes to a house of worship, or nightclub, or outdoor concert. And anyone who sends their children off to school that day, hoping they'll come home safely.
But sure, leave town. Avoid seeing them. Don't listen to them. Don't invite them in to talk to. Blame them for daring to infringe on the rights of the guns.
I honestly don't have a clue what impact there will be from the March for Our Lives rallies around the country over the weekend. Pretty much the only two things I feel comfortable in knowing are one, that willful ignorance is no virtue and tends not to work in one's favor. And two, the protest marches are not stopping at Saturday.
The guest contestant on this week's NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is David Duchovny. His interview is lively, and Duchovny is challenging but personable and funny, particularly when he has a hilarious and quick comeback to an offbeat question from host Peter Sagal.
I've been enjoying the NCAA basketball tournament more than usual this year. That's because the Loyola of Chicago Ramblers have been shocking the basketball world, and after their win last night, they've made it to the Final Four.
For most people, this is notable because Loyola of Chicago is not known as a major basketball powerhouse. (To be clear, it's not as tiny a school as people might think. Undergrad enrollment is 16,500, which is twice the enrollment at Northwestern.) But for me, it's not only notable, but highly-notable for another reason.
It's not just that Loyola is just about two miles down the road from Northwestern -- literally. (Both schools are on Sheridan Road. Northwestern in Evanston borders Chicago about a mile to the north of Howard St. -- which is the dividing line -- and Loyola is about a mile south of Howard Street. But one of the iconic sports memories of my life concerns Loyola basketball.
I was but a wee kid at the time, but even then I knew it was something really special when Loyola of Chicago shocked the basketball world (the first time...) back in 1963 when they made it to the NCAA basketball finals. And it was all the more shocking because four of their five starting players were black, led by All American Jerry Harkness. They weren't given any chance against their opponents, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, since Cincinnati was not only the defending national champions -- but they were the two-time defending national champions. And yet...Loyola won. In overtime. On what was literally a last-second shot. Despite being behind by 15 points with about 10 minutes left.
I don't remember much of the game (I didn't remember any of those details above, but was reminded of them when tracking down this video below), but I knew enough even at that young age that when I was watching on our old black-and-white set, this was pretty amazing. It helped, too, when you could hear the Loyola announcer Red Rush screaming "We won!! We won!!!
And now, I wasn't just a fair-weather fan. I followed all the Chicago teams, including the DePaul Blue Demons and their legendary coach Ray Meyer, and Loyola was especially fun to listen to because Red Rush was a reasonably-outlandish announcer. I remember that their games were sponsored by Gonnella Bread -- easy to remember because Red would loving boom out their slogan, "Gonnella, it's swella, fella." And I've always remembered Loyola's coach, George Ireland.
I listened to Northwestern basketball, too, but...well, they sucked eggs. As you may recall, up until last year they were the only major college team never to have qualified for the post-season tournament in the history of the NCAA.
It was a notable tournament that year for another reason. That was the year that Mississippi State played in the NCAA post-season tourney for the first time, having avoided it in the past, despite being a very good team, since that would have meant playing integrated teams. And in their very first NCAA tournament game, Mississippi State's opponent was...the Loyola Ramblers. From what I've read, it's one of the most-famous games in NCAA history, known as the Game of Change. And Loyola, of course, won -- "of course," because they had to have won all their tournament games that year, given that they won the championship...
This is a very good 30-minute documentary on Loyola's 1963 championship season, made by Comcast Sports. It focuses on that Game of Change and the championship game. If you only want to see the coverage of the final game, just jump to the 22-minute mark. (Loyola is wearing the white uniforms.) The fun thing, too, is you get to hear Red Rush's wildly-excited play-by-play, including his screaming of "We won!! We won!!" Alas, not a word about Gonnella Bread. But it is swella, fella.
(And still is, after 130 years...)
From the archives. This week's contestant is Stacy Fahrion from Denver, Colorado. The hidden song was on the tip of my tongue, and I knew I knew it, but I just couldn't place it. And then I did. Some will likely get it far earlier than I did, because the tip of their is much clearer. As for the composer style, it's one of those styles I just don't know well enough and mix-and-match about four or five different people. So, I didn't get it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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