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April 30, 2021

TrackNotes: Punditry As A Handicapping Tool

There's an old joke in horse racing.

"Who's going to win (the Derby)?"

"Nobody."

The 2021 Road to the Roses has been more like Halsted Street on a Saturday morning. Where you also try to weave your way around the slow drivers.

Few horses have hit two green lights in a row and favorites have gotten stuck behind the guy with no guts in making the left turn.

This 147th running of the Kentucky Derby (Grade I, 10 furlongs, 1-1/4 miles, $3,000,000, post 5:57 p.m. Central) will have a winner, but none of these horses, except for maybe one or two, has distinguished himself. Those runners considered leaders of the 3-year-olds just weeks ago, have either regressed or dropped out completely.

With the way things have been going, this race is inscrutable to handicap, with so many of the entries mediocre at best, and the better horses trying to get around them.

If you want to get really hammered, watch all the coverage (also Friday) and take a drink every time the NBC muppets mention Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie. And sips for Midnight Bourbon, Rock Your World and the Exacta of Known Agenda: capable/but that post position!

You have to consider the likes of Mike Tirico, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey can't know what's going to happen either, not with this bunch, but all spring they have been locked on the favorites in all the preps with terms like "clear favorite," or "his race to lose," or "this is probably a match race." One by one, most of those favorites went down. Their commentary was so bad, it became a handicapping tool. Seriously, I was betting against the desk, at good prices.

I just get the feeling NBC's coverage will be the same old-same old. But, like two trains on a collision course, can they tell both stories? The Asmussens and O'Neills will be making the Derby a family affair, how sweet.

Will they mention the many fines and suspensions O'Neill has been dealt over the years, including a just-finished sentence March 17? O'Neill is the guy who came into Belmont in 2012 with I'll Have Another vying for a Triple Crown under a pending suspension and so tainted, Belmont instituted guards and cameras in isolation stalls. They had to let him in only because his horse won the Derby and Preakness, but the horse was scratched for an injury. Asmussen is also no stranger to the seamy side of racing. Do your own search, too many links to handle.

When I see NBC will run American Pharaoh: Born to Run after the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, they're going to the well, again. And I haven't see the same treatment of Justify, who shouldn't even have been in his Derby.

One of the first major defections was Bob Baffert's Life Is Good. Considered the fastest horse in this crop, he was discovered to have a bone crack in a rear ankle after the San Felipe. His Spielberg also dropped out after a poor eighth in the Florida Derby.

Keep in mind, Churchill Downs debuted its new Derby starting gate last September. Instead of a 14-horse gate with a seven-horse auxiliary gate, it's now a full 20-horse gate. That means the gap between the two old gates is gone, and the inside posts are further out from the rail, perhaps two or three lanes. So don't fear the "dreaded one hole" like you used to. Plus, as Red Bradley used to say, "it's a long race."

Let's see what we can find, by post position:

1. Known Agenda (6-1 morning line odds, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., trainer Todd Pletcher)

With the old gates, the last winner from that post was Ferdinand in 1986. This would be a fine time to relive the wizardry of one Bill Shoemaker as he maneuvers to the hole, takes the rail and runs on. He comes into the picture at the 6:55 mark in the powder blue silks and pink cap.

There's a lot to like with Known Agenda, which might include a higher price, depending on how the talking heads pound the post position angle. He comes in from a three-length score in the Florida Derby engineered by a marvelous, ground-saving trip by Ortiz.

'Agenda was fairly dismal in the Remsen at Aqueduct in a December slop, and in Tampa's Sam F. Davis in February. Pletcher called an audible and got him going in a $75K optional claimer win by 11, just before his Florida win.

His 12-point Beyer Speed Figure improvement jumps out at you and while the fourth off the break might be a turnoff, Pletcher babies his horses and he hasn't run since March 27.

He has the speed against those to his outside to at least stay forward early. Taking the post into some consideration, really try to get that 6-1 or better.

2. Like the King (50-1, Drayden Van Dyke, Wesley Ward)

What in the wide wide world of sports is agoin' on? This horse has no class. This is where Churchill Downs Inc. gerrymandering comes in. Since purchasing Turfway Park recently - and embarking on a historical horse racing construction project there - CDI gave the Jeff Ruby Steaks, a cheap Grade III for a reason, the same 100-40-20-10 points motherlode that all the other, eminently more historical and traditional preps have. Florida or Santa Anita Derbies anyone?

This is the same company that stripped the Illinois Derby - read Hawthorne Race Course - of its Kentucky points out of spite. Not that Arlington Park has had an effing Derby prep in my lifetime.

Like the King has run on fast dirt once, sticky dirt once, turf once and the rest on Turfway's synthetic. On Churchill's notoriously fast Derby Day track set-up, this is a horse that had better hope he can keep up, or he'll hurt somebody. Between the 2-5 posts, I really hope we don't have a wipeout by the first turn.

3. Brooklyn Strong (50-1, Umberto Rispoli, Daniel Velazquez)

Rispoli had been riding Rock Your World, but when John Sadler had a chance to get Joel Rosario for the Santa Anita Derby, he took it. 'Strong won the Remsen with a giraffe 94 Beyer, then trudged in fifth in the April 3 Wood Memorial, his only 2021 race. His "Tracked inside, tired" line from that race says it all: he has no foundation. Shouldn't be here.

4. Keepmeinmind (50-1, David Cohen, Robertino Diodoro)

This one comes in by spittling Derby points and the defection of others. He bounced in it, but won the Kentucky Jockey Club in November against nobody and has continued bouncing ever since. He's still running the April 3 Blue Grass Stakes, so I assume Cohen rode him directly to Louisville. Really, why? P.S. I don't like his trainer's 27 percent win rate this year. That looks sneaky.

5. Sainthood (50-1, Corey Lanerie, Todd Pletcher)

Is there a rule against 100-1 in the morning line? Did the owners twist Pletcher's arm, who might have told them "better the Preakness?" He got his points in the overloaded Jeff Ruby Steaks. His 84 top Beyer last out (on synthetic) is more suitable to a Derby horse three preps back. He'll need a monumental progression, which he won't get on this track in this race.

6. O Besos (20-1, Martin Pedroza, Greg Foley)

All the way from the one-post out, this is the one they say can give Known Agenda a challenge before the turn. His Beyer progression has been good, but the running lines all say "wide." A fourth in the Risen Star and third in the Louisiana Derby (96 Beyer) against a handful of these does might bode well, if you like the posse's exodus here from New Orleans. If the rest of the field can keep him from going wide and Pedroza can keep him safely out of trouble, and the pace up front melts down, and Pedroza can position him for a stretch run, and if the horse himself wants to run even faster . . . His pappy, Orb, won this race in 2013. Consider, certainly in your exotics.

7. Mandaloun (15-1, Florent Geroux, Brad Cox)

I learned a long time ago not to eye a Derby hopeful and ride the emotional roller coaster on the way. But this one. He was on a very good upward arc and I liked his heart in third place by one in the LeComte in January. Then he pretty handily won the Risen Star. Then he was almost even money in the Louisiana Derby and was a struggling, fading sixth by almost 12 lengths. That race might be called a key race of sorts, because the top three are all in this Derby. Cox is one of the hottest trainers in the country, hmmm, and should be able to get Mandaloun on track if the horse has it. Distance? His workouts have been very good. But he took a 16-point Beyer bounce in his last, so this would be on faith. And 10-1 or more!

8. Medina Spirit (15-1, John Velazquez, Bob Baffert)

With Baffert's star-studded barn taking a hit, this is his only Derby entrant this year. His biggest win is the Robert B. Lewis (Grade III) in January and two best-of-the-rest seconds in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. It's Baffert and Johnny V. and a good post, but I have a feeling this one is going to take money and be overbet. Wiseguys, but you're never a fool betting on Baffert. Let's hope his price doesn't plummet.

9. Hot Rod Charlie (8-1, Flavien Prat, Doug O'Neill)

Take a shot! Coming out of an in-control wire job in Louisiana, he looked very professional. It included his career-best 99 Beyer and this race is his third off the break. They say he's been training great. With Indian Charlie on his dam's side, you'll have doubt on the distance, but in this field, he's definitely in the top tier. Just hope some sort of price holds up.

10. Midnight Bourbon (20-1, Mike Smith, Steve Asmussen)

Another one up through the bayou, this one has foundation. He ran four times as a 2-year-old and after a lackluster Champagne (76 Beyer) in October, he took off three months and fired right back in a Lecomte win with a 93 Beyer. I think jockey Joe Talamo did a favor for Smith because he didn't beat on the horse in losing efforts, including the no-shame loss to Hot Rod'. He's always been in the money and has plenty of foundation, with Money Mike Smith aboard. "Bourbon's been working great. If he can outlast into a busted pace, he has a real chance. But he won't be no 20-1.

11. Dynamic One (20-1, Jose Ortiz, Todd Pletcher)

He was nailed at the wire by the 72-1, out-of-the-clouds Bourbonic in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He had an 89 Beyer in that one and would probably need a 10-12 point boost here, and a great trip. His only win is a maiden special weight. This is asking a lot. He might slip into the money at monster price and you might consider in the exotics. Just don't blame me, either way.

12. Helium (50-1 again, Julien Leparoux, Mark Casse)

He won the Tampa Bay Derby over horses who should have done better. He's three-for-three, but two of those on artificial at Woodbine. He's raced only once this year. Once again, he'll need a huge jump up after an 84 top Beyer last out. It's a baptism on conventional dirt. Will he dig Churchill? Nah. But put a flyer on him.

13. Hidden Stash (50-1, Rafael Bejarano, Victoria Oliver)

Another one who shouldn't be here, his angle will be 'the first female trainer to win the . . .' Dismal in three stakes races, he's also plateaued in the lower 80s Beyers after a seven-race sample size. Nope.

14. Essential Quality (2-1, Luis Saez, Brad Cox)

Kill the waterworks, I know Cox grew up in the shadow of the Twin Spires. An absolutely gorgeous gray with jet black mane and tail, your favorite is 5-0, but he's not unbeatable here, because he's not a particularly fast horse. Some precocious colt down the tote board can certainly win. He shipped in to Oaklawn to win the Southwest and then came home to win the Blue Grass at Keeneland. Not way outside, but not inside either, he seemed a bit rank in a quickish pace. He worked hard all the way around as Hidden Stash, who forced Saez to hit the gas fairly early, gave him tons to handle, and he was all out to get the win. I smell a bounce here, but the thing I hate about a horse like this is that at a razor thin price, you still have to include him. If you can, fashion a small exacta with him, but a bigger one without him.

15. Rock Your World (5-1, Joel Rosario, John Sadler)

That 100 Beyer in the Santa Anita Derby hits you between the eyes, at least in this Kentucky Derby. Lightly raced at 3-0, Sadler saw something after two turf wins and busted down the entrance door to Louisville. Biding his time, Rock' opened daylight on the far turn and never looked back. INCLUDE. Rosario rode him to his first win, and he jumped off Hot Rod Charlie for this one, which says a lot by one of the top jocks in America. Don't be surprised if this one goes off at favorite or co-favorite.

16. King Fury (20-1, Brian Hernandez Jr., Ken McPeek)

He got in with a Lexington Stakes win in the slop at Keeneland. That's not exactly a Have Gun Will Travel calling card. His 96 in that race is very nice, but he has not done well at all in top stakes races, such as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, seventh. He has won twice at Churchill, including a minor stakes race. Drape likes him, Hoppert does not. His sire is the mighty Curlin, legendary on the track and a real operator now on the dating scene. The 15 and the 17 could jump out and squeeze this guy out of the race. Take a flyer at a price. Twenty horses, DRAT! (BULLETIN: Make that 19. King Fury scratched Friday after spiking a fever.)

17. Highly Motivated (10-1, Javier Castellano, Chad Brown)

His papers look in order, although his distance pedigree might lack. He maybe should have won the Blue Grass (see Essential Quality), but couldn't outkick. The Castellano/Brown duo are top notch. We can only wait and see if he can get the distance, this his longest assignment. I'll need minimum 10-1. I dunno. But that beard, and the way he spoke Dutch to that girl.

18. Super Stock (30-1, Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen)

He's improved in all of his races (8-2-2-2). I think Joe Talamo might have saved him in the Rebel, which may not have pleased Asmussen, but he came right back and romped in the Arkansas Derby against highly regarded Concert Tour and Caddo River under Santana. Concert' opted out of this Derby and Caddo' spiked a fever afterwards in Hot Springs. The smallish Super Stock benefited mightily from a pace duel by those other two, and he'll need something similar here, which would be much more difficult to get, from the 18 post. I think his Arkansas win might disguise distance limitations. He'll need another nine-point Beyer jump and a real show of versatility in this one. I believe the wise guys will be on this one, but I don't trust the Arkansas win.

19. Soup and Sandwich (30-1, Tyler Gaffalione, Mark Casse)

Owned by the granddaughter of one of the Campbell's Kids, he's named after one of the oldest marketing campaigns in America. His second to Known Agenda in the Florida Derby was nothing special. He is 3-2-1-0, but it seems like they threw in one too many cans of water here. He needs the lead, but won't get it here.

20. Bourbonic (30-1, Kendrick Carmouche, Todd Pletcher)

They're trying to make the angle of Carmouche being the first black jockey to win the Derby in more than a century. Why? This outtake from a New York Times story - "He is also intensely aware of the nation's ongoing dialogue about race" - explains it.

Chief: "Race! Angle, buzzword, trending metric, hashtag! Get on it, Drape!" And what does "Black" even mean? Do we not see that the majority of jockeys in this race are men of color? Throw in a couple of Italians, Rispoli born on the calf of the boot, some Frenchmen, a Jew, round-faced Mike Smith whose mother is Mexican, some Cajun, including Carmouche, and I think we've got a damn diverse bunch of riders here. I do wish we would see more women. Rosie Napravnik, PLEASE come back!

Racing has always had diversity! No horseplayer I have ever, ever seen has mentioned a jockey's race for race's sake, even if he hates the way the guy rides a horse.

For the record, Jimmy Winkfield, 1901 and 1902. Will NBC discuss how the white establishment drummed out the black jockeys, just like baseball, because just plain segregation and that they were far superior riders? We'll see.

If Bourbonic and Carmouche win this race, it will be because the rider stays safe, parcels his speed, stays in the second or third tier and then runs them down like the stone cold closer he is. The blinkers have done wonders. He's a son of Bernardini (A.P. Indy) with Afleet Alex on his dam side. That's flashy. I'm including him.

* * *

In the Kentucky Oaks, Malathaat is the 5-2 morning line favorite.

I like an improving Pauline's Pearl at a price. In a balanced race, I also like Travel Column, Ava's Grace and Search Results.

* * *

Weather looks perfect for both days. There was a deluge Wednesday and Thursday, so stay tuned to the turf ratings.

* * *

TV is deja vu.

Friday Oaks Day is NBCSN 11 a.m to 5 p.m.

Rerun of American Pharaoh: Born to Run at 5 p.m.

Saturday Derby Day is Kentucky Derby Prep special 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., NBCSN. Derby Card on NBC 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 3:24 PM | Permalink

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #354: Bears Turn The Beat Around

After miracle move, Matt Nagy now on the clock. Plus: Tony La Russa's Apology Tour; Cubs' Giggly Garbage; Thank You, Andrew Shaw; Blackhawks, Bulls Going Out With Whimpers; Loyola's Leavers; Ramblers Women Score First Tourney Goal; Red Stars Lose Challenge; Fire May Or May Not Have Played Since Last Time We Talked; Broadcast Blues; and Aiding And Abetting.

Beachwood Radio Network · The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #354: Bears Turn The Beat Around

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SHOW NOTES

* 354.

* Rhodes: I can't fight this feeling!

* The Athletic: Dave Gettleman's Trade Saves The New York Giants' First Round And Sets Them Up For The Future.

* Now Matt Nagy is on the clock.

* Fields: "When big moments present themselves, I feel like there's just another thing that kicks inside of me."

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30:09: Tony La Russa's Apology Tour.

* Arthur, Baseball Prospectus: Tony La Russa Is Leaving His Pitchers In Too Long.

* Fegan, The Athletic: As Lucas Giolito's Night Goes Awry, Tony La Russa Blames Himself For Not Recognizing It.

* The White Sox' bench coach is former Cub Miguel Cairo.

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41:13: Cubs Should Apologize.

+

* Coffman: "Giggly garbage."

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46:23: Thank You, Andrew Shaw.

* Bumbaca, USA Today: Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw, Citing Concussions, Retires From NHL At 29.

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48:40: Blackhawks, Bulls Going Out With Whimpers.

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50:53: Loyola's Leavers.

* Telander: Wishing Safe Travels To Suitcase Charlie Moore.

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52:48: Loyola Scores First Tourney Goal.

* The GIST: "The Loyola women's soccer team lost 3-1 to the Denver Pioneers in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday. Despite the loss, we're excited that midfielder Abby Swanson's goal marked the Ramblers' first in their six NCAA tournament appearances."

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53:36: Red Stars Lose Challenge.

* The GIST: "On the professional side, the Red Stars closed out the Challenge Cup with a 3-2 loss to the OL Reign on Tuesday. While Chicago out-shot their opponents throughout the tournament, they struggled to find the back of the net and finished without a win."

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55:30: Chicago Fire May Or May Not Have Played Since We Talked Last.

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56:16: Broadcast Blues.

* Betcast, Statcast, Poorcast, Porncast . . .

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58:53: Aiding And Abetting.

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STOPPAGE: 5:45

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For archives and other Beachwood shows, see The Beachwood Radio Network.

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Comments welcome
.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:41 PM | Permalink

April 28, 2021

Why We Hated Ali - And Then Loved Him

Memories can be an enemy. Their distortions often defeat us.

We ended the Vietnam War because America rose up to hate it. We all know that. Except that's not exactly true. Many Americans loved that war - or at least supported it - through much of its duration. Just as many of us still loved Richard Nixon on the day he boarded Marine I and flew away into permanent disgrace.

Even as the Founding Fathers were expelling the British in 1776, just as many colonists were Tories who backed the king. Eighty thousand fled to Canada to escape the Patriots' outrage and murderous mobs.

We are a nation of too many murderous mobs.

But Tories did not get to write the history books.

Nuance is a tough sell for our memories. We tend to believe the simple, and toss the rest.

So now it is unchallenged, presumptive history that American always loved Muhammad Ali, the champ who floated like a butterfly into our hearts.

He became this gentle, endearing but ailing old man before he died on June 3, 2016, after fighting off the Parkinson's disease that stalked him for three decades.

The world loved him at the end.

But do we ever wonder why we didn't love him at the beginning when was a young man in his glory, and perhaps the most gifted athlete of his century? What did that loathing of him say about him, or more to the point, what did it reveal about the nation?

This last week of April in 1967 was informative. It's the right week to think of Ali.

Did we appreciate him? Did we despise him? This was the day he was called to be drafted into the Army, and unequivocally said no. He did not hide or ignore the summons. He simply said no, and stood to face prison and the end of his career for his ideals.

A single Page 1 headline in the April 27, 1967 Chicago Tribune summarized it all: "Clay dodges army; Cubs lose; Sox win."

Two years after he changed his name, the Tribune still called him by what he labeled his "slave name."

We are a nation always splintered at the midpoint of sane and irrational, and he enunciated that divide more than most. To some of us, he was a hero and would always be that. To others, he was a cowardly shirker who took on a foreign religion just to avoid serving.

But when he set us all straight that month, it did not change any minds about him. The same among my newsroom friends and colleagues who despised him before, despised him even more. It is an illusion that newspaper newsrooms in those days were bastions of free-thinking liberals. They weren't.

In that environment, Ali was a topic loaded with risks. I lost friends because I admired Ali, and what he meant. I regretted how they felt. Perhaps those old friends all felt the same regret about me.

That year teetered on several fulcrums. In a December Harris poll, 40 percent of Americans didn't think people who were against the war in Vietnam even had the right to peacefully demonstrate against the war.

More dramatically, 56 percent in a 1968 Gallup poll approved of Chicago police beating anti-war protestors at the Democratic National Convention that summer.

As the Roper Poll at Cornell noted: "The view that the U.S. had made a mistake in sending troops to Vietnam steadily increased from 32 percent to 45 percent."

Even at the end of 1967, the war still had majority support.

Not all of the animosity about Ali was Islam and the Vietnam War. He was Black and defiant. White America did not like either of those two qualities. He might have been the first deliberate manifestation of Black Lives Matter.

Two years earlier Malcolm X had been killed, and an April hence Martin Luther King would be dead. Another year passed, and Bobby Kennedy, too, would be taken from us.

Heroes fell when assassins spoke. One hero lived.

Then the stage would belong to Ali. He proved to be even stronger and more resilient than the historical stage he strode. He had a loud voice, and he used it.

In case anyone had doubts about him, he told them clearly that spring.

"I ain't draft dodging. I ain't burning no flag. I ain't running to Canada. I'm staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I've been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for four or five more, but I ain't going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people.

"If I want to die, I'll die right here, right now, fightin' you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won't even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won't even stand up for me right here at home."

Ali is a manifest proof of a theory: We are thoroughly though unconsciously racist as a nation and have always been, though we seldom recognize the animosity, even now. There is very little verifiable proof that we have figured out our national responsibility in who we are and why. In large ways, we are deeply, adamantly mistaken about ourselves.

We do not like to work on more accurate memories. It's too hard to fight with your conscience.

Ali stirred us up, and did so deliberately. He was a showman and provocateur.

His ring showbiz persona was calculated - and mostly scripted - and was shaped originally by pro wrestler "Gorgeous George" Wagner.

In a 1969 interview with the Associated Press's Hubert Mizel, Ali revealed that he met with Gorgeous George in Las Vegas in 1961, and the wrestler inspired him to use wrestling bragging when he did interviews. Ali was almost always on stage.

Ali wanted to provoke some and entertain others. Be a poet. Rhyme. Captivate. Infuriate. Entrance. Brag outlandishly. Be bigger than boxing. And dare the world to ignore you. But, as Wagner noted, he would have 13,000 paid customers in the arena. Generations of pro wrestlers have followed the same script. Among other skills, Ali was a writer of his own poetry.

Eventually he could not defeat Parkinson's disease, and it took him.

But even at the end, Ali dared us to ignore him. Just try. But we could not. Eventually most of the nation's anger at Ali had drained away with the years, to be replaced with admiration and affection.

I admired the gentle, elderly Ali, but I loved the young, angry Ali more.

As Ali once wrote:

I've wrestled with alligators.
I've tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning.
And throw'd thunder in jail.

You cannot ignore the Greatest of All Time.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was BMW Is The Answer To The Begged Question. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 1:29 PM | Permalink

April 27, 2021

Superleague Failure Good For The Women's Game

Within 72 hours of announcement, the European Super League (ESL) was killed. It was a testament to the power of fans and a reminder that soccer isn't just about the interest of owners but a game for all.

While much talk has centered on the men's game, in the breakaway league's initial statement it was announced that "As soon as practicable after the start of the men's competition, a corresponding women's league will also be launched, helping to advance and develop the women's game."

The failure of the ESL and its women's game is a lucky swerve. If it had gone ahead, women's football would have been being caught up in global football politics and ultimately being held back in its development, contrary to the ESL's statement.

A Damaging Impact?

The most obvious issue was how much of an afterthought a women's league was in the ESL announcement. With just a single sentence within the initial statement, there was no reassurance for women's soccer managers, players or fans that the game was a strategic priority

Often seen as the "little sister" to men's soccer, the presumption that the women's game would simply follow suit is further evidence of the increasing swallowing up of women's soccer by the men's game.

In 2011, the FA encouraged independent women's teams to strategically align to men's professional clubs to support the development of the women's game. Fast forward 10 years and how integrated those women's teams are within the men's set-up is different across the leagues.

Players from Birmingham City Women, for example, recently wrote to the board criticizing their lack of basic working conditions in comparison to the men's team.

One of the biggest problems with the proposed women's ESL was how many of the top women's teams would have missed out because their men's teams were not as successful. Notable exclusions would be France's Lyon (seven times winners of the Women's Champions League) and Germany's Wolfsburg (twice winners).

Of those clubs guaranteed participation, the proposal assumed that the women's team within each club were equally "a top club" within their league, which is not always the case. For example, Tottenham Women are only in their second year as a professional team and currently only six points off relegation from the Women's Super League.

Screen Shot 2021-04-27 at 8.49.41 PM.pngA Women's Super League fixture between Tottenham Hotspur and Bristol City/Federico Guerra Moran, Shutterstock

The whole fiasco also overshadowed the reforms to the Women's UEFA Champions League for the 2021-22 season. This would see an expansion of the competition with a 16-team group stage and increased revenue from a new model of centralized marketing and TV coverage.

In stark contrast to the ESL, there was heavy consultation for this change with member associations and clubs. The European Club Association also released their women's soccer strategy this month with a commitment to driving a sustainable future for the game through new research insights that inform strategic directions. These considered measures should accelerate European soccer.

Measures Must Address Inequalities

Women's soccer has taken great strides in recent years, with high viewing figures at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. More recently in England, a £7 million landmark broadcasting deal for the FA Women's Super League has been announced to regularly connect women's soccer to mainstream audiences. This move is predicated on a forecasted 350% viewership spike. The deal also involves investment into the lower tiers of women's soccer, to start bridging the increasing gaps between elite clubs.

Screen Shot 2021-04-27 at 8.51.16 PM.pngChelsea women's team celebrate a goal/Federico Guerra Morán, Alamy

The notion of visibility has been at the forefront of discussions of women's sport in the UK recently, following the Women's Sport Trust's impactful study. However, we must not presume that visibility is the solution to all problems. Broadcasters have a responsibility to not only make these women visible but also demonstrate that they're valued and valuable. This would involve primetime scheduling and high production value, which have been inconsistent to date.

Let's not gloss over persistent and perpetual inequalities that plague the women's game beyond visibility. Research published last year found that the pandemic has impacted women's soccer differently to men's soccer and is facing serious economic threats.

Before the pandemic, the elite game in England already had to deal with poor pitches, facilities and working conditions for players. Women's soccer is in the very early stages of professionalization in the UK, and while progress is evident, it is crucial investment continues into professional structures, so more players can benefit.

Seizing The Moment

There are lessons to be learned from the ESL debacle and real political, economic and cultural change which has gender equality at heart that can be enacted as a result. Here are some of our suggestions:

1) Capitalizing on growth. If clubs do not consider women's soccer as core business, governance structures need to make them.

2) Consultation. The ESL clubs did not consult their women's teams on the strategy. This resulted in top teams missing and mismatched because they copied the men's game. Clearly, "one size does not fit all."

3) Strategy development. The Champions League reforms will help international soccer, but we worry this will also exacerbate the difference in financial capabilities between the top and bottom clubs. Fair distribution of wealth needs to be considered.

4) Collective action. Beyond sexism, Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford, stated it is a shame that soccer does not react as strongly to racism as it did to the ESL. We could implore a similar demand for issues related to homophobia, transphobia and beyond.

5) Fan advocacy. Women's soccer fans need to remain ardent in their support of women's soccer as separate but related to men's soccer.

Soccer is often slow to resolve issues that have plagued the game. However, the reaction to the ESL can and should provide hope in what can be achieved in unity, highlighting the social and political significance of soccer as a space for change.

Beth Clarkson is a senior lecturer in sports management at the University of Portsmouth; Alex Culvin is a senior lecturer in sports business at the University of Salford; and Ali Bowes is a senior lecturer in the sociology of sport at Nottingham Trent University.

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This post is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments welcome.


Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 8:27 PM | Permalink

How The Federal Reserve Is Making The Rich Richer - And Not So Much Everybody Else

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Federal Reserve has gotten plenty of kudos for moves that have helped stabilize the economy, kept house prices from tanking and supported the stock market. But those successes have obscured another effect: the inadvertent impact the Fed's ultra-low interest rates and bond-buying sprees are having on economic inequality.

Longstanding inequality in the U.S. has been exacerbated by the Fed's role in touching off a multitrillion-dollar boom in stock markets - and stock ownership is heavily skewed toward the wealthiest Americans.

In contrast, soaring stock prices don't help people like Wina Tan. Tan, 59, is one of the millions of Americans nearing retirement age whose greatest source of wealth isn't stocks or equity in a home. Rather, it's the Social Security checks she expects to start getting once she retires.

Tan, precariously perched on the lowest rung of America's working class, earns about $25,000 a year as a job coach for adults with special needs near Irvine, California. She's a single mom and grandmother and can afford food, rent and healthcare only with the help of federal safety net programs.

Her savings account totals around $11,000, most of it from recent tax refunds and stimulus payments. She's reluctant to risk that money in stocks, so the bull market will probably continue to charge past her.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Fed's near-zero interest rates, the best rate her credit union could offer was 0.5% for a long-term certificate of deposit. That would mean earning less than $60 a year on her savings while tying the money up for five years.

Tan's situation is far from unique. Social Security is the top source of wealth for most lower-income households with workers nearing retirement, according to Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist at The New School in New York City who specializes in retirement.

If the guaranteed income stream of Social Security is treated as an asset, she estimates it amounts to 58% of the net worth for near-retirees in the bottom half of the U.S. wealth distribution. Other retirement savings represent only about 11% of their net worth, and stocks are just 1%. (Home equity accounts for most of the remainder.)

Large swaths of Americans like Tan have essentially missed out on any direct wealth increase from the market's near doubling since its bottom 13 months ago. Rather, the major beneficiaries have been the wealthiest 10% of Americans, who owned 89% of stocks and mutual fund shares held by U.S. households as of year-end, according to Fed statistics. More than half of that - 53% - is owned by the top 1%.

The Fed's policies have helped generate jobs and reduce unemployment, which was their goal. In the process, however, the Fed has accelerated the decades-long increase in economic inequality by helping increase the wealth of people at the top far more than it has increased the wealth of working-class Americans.

"High-wealth households do much better in a low-rate environment than lower-wealth households do," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said. "The low-interest environment increases inequality by increasing the wealth of people who are well-off."

Zandi noted, however, that less well-off people don't lose money because of the low rates; they simply don't do as well as wealthier people.

Home prices have also benefited from the Fed's easy money policies, and home ownership is much more evenly distributed than stock ownership is. The wealthiest 10% own only 45% of the real estate held by American households, according to the Fed. The remainder is owned largely by middle-class households, for whom home equity is often their biggest source of wealth.

But stock holdings are where the truly massive gains have come. It's also where there was a big scare last year before the Fed and the CARES Act came to the rescue. COVID-19 sent unemployment soaring and stocks plummeting, as the market fell 35% in 2020 between February 19 and March 23.The market's rise since then makes the increase in homeowners' equity look negligible. From last year's market bottom through mid-April of this year, stocks gained about $22.4 trillion in value, as measured by the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index.

6aZap-stock-vs-equity-desktop.png

In contrast, the nation's total home equity - the value of houses less the debt on them - rose only about $1.3 trillion from the end of last year's first quarter (eight days after the market low) through Dec. 31, according to the Fed.

Even if you tweak the housing numbers to reflect this year's gains, or measure the stock market's gain from before the February drop, the disparity between stocks and home equity is huge.

"Inequality is a cumulative process," said Karen Petrou, author of The Engine of Inequality: The Fed and the Future of Wealth in America and managing partner of the Washington-based consulting firm Federal Financial Analytics. "The richer you are, the richer you get, and the poorer you are, the poorer you get, unless something puts that engine in reverse," she said. "That engine is driven not by fate or by untouchable phenomena such as demographics but most importantly by policy decisions."

Under President Joe Biden, the federal government is trying to both create jobs and funnel lots of money to people like Tan with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package. Indeed, Tan is grateful for the $4,200 in stimulus funds she recently received.

"This country has really, really blessed me a lot," said Tan, a naturalized citizen who emigrated from Indonesia in 1984.

The Biden administration is also pushing for a $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill. But even without a penny yet having been spent on that, the federal government is running up record budget deficits, with more to come.

A considerable part of current and future deficits will be indirectly financed by the Fed, which has been increasing its holdings of Treasury IOUs and mortgage-backed securities by at least $120 billion a month, and has directed its trading desk to increase purchases "as needed" to maintain smooth functioning in the financial markets.

During Donald Trump's four years as president, the Fed added $2.25 trillion to its holdings of Treasury IOUs, which helped cover the $7.8 trillion of debt the Treasury issued to finance budget deficits during the Trump years. It's likely the central bank will be the biggest source of finance for Biden's deficits, just as it was for Trump's.

Why does that matter? Because when the Fed buys securities, it does so with money that it creates out of thin air. Pumping more money into the financial system increases the money supply, and some of that cash inevitably ends up making its way into the stock market, boosting prices.

Biden is making tax increases a big part of his infrastructure pitch, which in theory would make that legislation less reliant on the Fed. But it doesn't mean taxes will go up anywhere near as much as he's proposing. Or that taxes and spending will rise in lockstep. After all, spending is a lot more popular than raising taxes.

Now, let's step back a bit and see how we got to this point.

During the 2008-09 financial crisis, the Fed initiated "quantitative easing," a policy under which the central bank buys massive amounts of Treasury IOUs and other securities to inject money into the markets and stimulate the economy. Then-Fed Chair Ben Bernanke championed that approach, which complemented aggressive moves by the Treasury and helped keep giant banks and the world financial system from cratering. (Lots of people still lost their homes to foreclosure, another example of how helping the financial system might not help average people. But that story has already been told.)

Quantitative easing helps stimulate the economy by driving down interest rates, which hurts savers. A telling indicator involves money market mutual funds, where savers have traditionally tucked away spare cash in hopes of earning more interest than bank deposits pay. Money market funds used to produce much more income than stock market index funds. But that ratio began to slip in 2008 and has kept on slipping. At the end of 2007, Vanguard's federal money market fund was yielding 4.46% and dividends on the Admiral shares of its Total Stock Market index fund yielded 1.78%. (A dividend yield is a fund's annual dividend divided by its share price.) At the end of 2008, the yield was 1.74% for the money market fund and 2.82% for the stock index fund. The current numbers: 0.01% and 1.28%.

Such low rates have forced average savers to either get by with less interest income or put more money into stocks than they would have otherwise done. That added demand has been one of the factors that has helped push stock prices upward.

Economists are beginning to view the interplay of the Fed's actions and inequality in a new light. Central bankers used to think that "we didn't have to worry about inequality when we did monetary policy," Olivier Blanchard, former director of research for the International Monetary Fund, said during a December virtual forum sponsored by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Blanchard said he has since come to believe that monetary policy does impact economic inequality because a change in interest rates has "major, major distribution effects between borrowers and lenders, between asset holders and not."

Spokespeople for the Fed, the Treasury and the White House declined to discuss the impact of soaring stock prices spurred by ultra-low interest rates on economic inequality. So we looked at what some key people involved in the 2008-09 and 2020 Fed bailouts have said publicly.

Fed chair Jerome Powell hasn't directly addressed the central bank's role in exacerbating inequality, though he has expressed sympathy for people left behind during the economic comeback. ("There's a lot of suffering out there still," he told 60 Minutes in an interview that aired on April 11. "And I think it's important that, just as a country, we stay and help those people.")

In a Congressional hearing in February, Powell testified, "We can't affect wealth inequality . . . We can affect indirectly income inequality by doing what we can to support job creation at the lower end of the market."

When pressed to discuss problems of wealth inequality by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), he told her that "those are really fiscal policy issues."

Bernanke, currently a fellow at the Brookings Institution, acknowledged in a 2017 Brookings paper that "all else equal, higher stock prices mean greater inequality of wealth." But he maintained that "whatever effects monetary policy has on inequality are likely to be transient, in contrast to the secular forces of technology and globalization that have contributed to the multi-decade rise in inequality in the United States and some other advanced economies."

Like Powell, Bernanke argued that inequality is the purview of fiscal policymakers (Congress and the White House) rather than the Fed.

Janet Yellen, who was the Fed's vice chair under Bernanke and is now Treasury secretary, asked in a 2014 speech whether income inequality is "compatible with values rooted in our nation's history."

But she largely defended ultra-low rates during a Q&A at a 2013 conference of business journalists. Older savers were "suffering from low returns on their CDs," she said, but "they have children and they have grandchildren" who will benefit from the stronger economy.

However, the economic effects of quantitative easing eventually fade, according to researchers at the Bank for International Settlements, a Switzerland-based institution that acts as a central bank for central banks. The BIS concluded in a 2017 study that quantitative easing had more success boosting stock prices than boosting economic growth.

Over time, the economic impact trended toward zero while stocks saw a "significant and persistent positive impact," the researchers found.

Jason Furman, a former chair of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers and currently an economics professor at Harvard, summed up the inequality tradeoff this way in an interview: "I don't want to have a lower stock market and higher unemployment."

In other words, increasing wealth for the wealthy is an inevitable side effect of keeping interest rates low to support the economy and create jobs.

The latest round of stimulus checks will help close that gap a little by putting money in the pockets of low-income earners like Tan. But near-zero interest rates will make it harder for them to save the money for the future, as Tan hopes to do.

She would like to set aside $1,000 to $2,000 in savings accounts for her 16-year-old son and 3-year-old grandson in addition to saving for her retirement and a rainy-day fund.

And as the Fed pumps more money into the financial system by buying Treasury securities and indirectly supporting federal stimulus programs, the run-up in stock markets is likely to continue - and leave people like Tan even further behind than they already were.

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Previously by Allan Sloan:
* Beware Wall Street's Magic Beans.

* Remember Bill Clinton's Phony Executive Pay Cap? It's Even Less Effective Than We Knew.

* A Schlupfloch Here, A Schlupfloch There. Now It's Real Money.

* Carried Interest Reform Is A Sham.

* How The Fed Is Screwing Your Retirement By Taking Care Of The Rich.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 7:25 PM | Permalink

April 26, 2021

Catching Fire

By the time the White Sox' $54 million closer Liam Hendriks strode to the mound in the top of the ninth inning last Saturday on a chilly night at The Grate, the contest between the local club and the Texas Rangers displayed the kind of drama that makes the game so compelling.

Sox starter Dallas Keuchel had pitched into the seventh inning, allowing seven hits. Two runners got as far as third base but advanced no further. Keuchel fanned just two batters, but the key to his success was that he walked no one. When he departed, his teammates led 1-0.

The lone run had scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the sixth after two outs and no one on base. A couple of base hits and a walk followed before catcher Jose Trevino was unable to corral a breaking ball from Kyle Gibson as Yoan Moncada raced home. The wild one was one of six Texas misfires during the weekend series in which the Rangers were swept by Tony La Russa's surging forces.

Last season with Oakland, Hendriks gave up a home run in the first of his 24 appearances. It was the lone round-tripper he yielded over 25⅓ innings in the entire COVID-shortened season.

After striking out Trevino to open the ninth, Hendriks prowled around the mound, exuding the swagger and overt confidence that he displays both on and off the field. Only problem was the 1-1 letter high fastball that Hendriks tried to fire past the next hitter, Willie Calhoun. Chances are if he threw the same pitch to Calhoun 10 times, the Ranger DH would swing and miss maybe six or seven times.

Calhoun is playing in his fourth season for the Rangers, and he's seen Hendriks before. In fact, he's faced only seven other pitchers more often. So maybe he was looking for the high fastball. Once he parked the sphere into the right centerfield seats, who cared? The score was tied, and Hendriks blew his second save in six opportunities.

Furthermore, Calhoun's blast was the fourth homer that Hendriks has allowed in 9⅓ innings this young season, a fact that defies explanation. To Hendriks's credit, he retired the next two hitters, setting up additional suspense in the bottom of the inning.

Luis Robert led off with an infield hit, bringing up switch-hitting Yasmani Grandal with his buck-thirty average - a prime candidate for a double play judging from the manner in which he continually grounds the ball right into the exaggerated shift employed by the opponent.

The analytics dictate that Robert had a better chance of scoring from first with no outs than from second base with one out. However, La Russa ignored those odds because of Grandal's struggles. So Yaz bunted and did so successfully as Robert advanced to second.

But wait. With first base now open, there was no way the Rangers were going to pitch to Yermin Mercedes. Yes, our very own Yerminator, who already had one hit and a .424 batting average. La Russa's strategy basically took the bat out of the Yerminator's hands, and after reliever John King struck out Billy Hamilton, the game appeared headed to extra innings.

By the way, Hamilton, inserted into left field for defensive purposes in the top of the seventh inning, had nailed Calhoun attempting to score from second base on a two-out single. His throw reached Grandal on the fly and Statcast told us that the ball traveled 95 mph. It was a thrilling play in a tense, close, exciting ball game and made La Russa's timing impeccable.

King ran the count to 0-2 to the next hitter Nick Madrigal, which was a mistake because the Sox second baseman is the best two-strike hitter in the game. Madrigal lined the next pitch over Joey Gallo's head in right field, and the Sox were 2-1 winners.

Madrigal has endured a liberal amount of criticism in his short career dating back to last season. He doesn't hit for power. He's made some crucial fielding and baserunning mistakes at the worst times. This despite hitting .340 in 2020 and .305 so far this season in which Madrigal is 9-for-22 with two strikes. That's a .409 mark. The MLB average for two-strike hitting is .177. That, folks, is other-worldly.

Let's return for a moment to the first run the Sox scored on Saturday. The Rangers' Trevino employs the latest technique that most catchers these days are using. Apparently in order to frame low pitches, nearly every catcher you see goes to one knee in an attempt to steal a strike for his pitcher. Catchers are right-handed so the right knee usually is planted in the dirt regardless of whether runners are on base.

In Trevino's case Saturday, Gibson, a right-hander, threw a breaking ball which moved to Trevino's right. With his right knee on the ground, he had no chance of shifting his body to block the pitch. A futile attempt to backhand the ball gave the Sox their 1-0 lead.

Until a few years ago, a catcher used a primary stance with less than two strikes on the hitter and with no one on base. If he wanted to drop to one knee, no harm could result. But when it was imperative to keep the ball in front of himself, a secondary stance was in order whereby a wider stance was indicated so that the catcher could move left or right to block a bouncing pitch.

The game has seen pioneers like the Tony Pena, who caught for 18 seasons (1980-97) in both leagues. Pena often positioned himself in a hurdler's stretch, providing the lowest target possible for his pitcher. However, he was agile and altered his stance depending on the situation while winning five Gold Glove awards.

Perhaps the biggest influencer in catching was the 17-year career of Johnny Bench of the Reds. He introduced the hinged glove, which resembled a first baseman's mitt rather than the pancake style that had been used for decades. Bench was able to catch with one hand, keeping his bare hand behind his right thigh. In 14,487 innings behind the plate, Bench was charged with only 94 passed balls, using the traditional style of a secondary stance. In 1972, Bench threw out 31 of 55 would-be base-stealers, an astounding 56 percent compared to the league average of 35. For his career, Bench eliminated 43 percent of the runners who tried to steal.

Grandal was touted as one of the top defensive catchers in the game, primarily for his pitch-framing prowess, when the Sox signed him for four years at $73 million prior to last season. Nevertheless, before to coming to the South Side, Grandal led the National League in passed balls three different seasons with the Dodgers.

Grandal liberally uses the dropped knee approach, which he claims gives him greater comfort after an inflamed knee sidelined him during spring training. However, three times this month he's been charged with catcher's interference when his glove has made contact with the hitter's bat. It happened twice last Tuesday in an 8-5 win over Cleveland.

Pitchers today throw harder than ever and many possess sharp-breaking sliders and cutters which create additional pressure on their catchers. That might explain the increase in pitches going to the backstop instead of into catchers' gloves. The rate of passed balls plus wild pitches for 2020 compared to the 2000 season showed an almost 20 percent increase of errant pitches and botches catches that couldn't be corralled. One has to wonder whether the dropped knee approach has contributed to this change.

You also have to wonder whether getting a strike for your pitcher is worth the risk of having a pitch carom off the backstop. If hockey goalies, who have a lot in common with their baseball brethren behind the plate, employed the same one-knee stance to protect their 24 square feet of real estate, you'd regularly have scores in double digits.

Nevertheless, like seven-inning games, runners on second to start an extra inning, and defensive shifts, pitch framing is here to stay. According to Statcast, the Brewers' Omar Narváez is the top pitch-framer in the game today. The same Omar Narváez who played three seasons (2016-18) for the Sox when he was considered an offensive threat but only mediocre defensively. For his career Narváez, has thrown out just 22 percent of attempted base-stealers.

Grandal, who ranked in the top four of pitch-framers the past three seasons, has slipped to 23rd so far this year.

Just like catchers who might find greater comfort resting on one knee, La Russa's White Sox surely are feeling greater solace today than a week ago since they've reeled off four straight wins after the weekend sweep of the Rangers, leaving the fellows with a 12-9 mark, 1½ games out of first place.

Michael Kopech's five inning, 10-strikeout performance on Sunday to beat Texas 8-4 was exactly what the club needed. Kopech was subbing for ace Lucas Giolito, who had the worst outing of his career last Monday in Boston on Patriots Day, lasting just one inning. Giolito, who suffered a small cut on his right index finger, will open a three-game set at home against Detroit on Tuesday. Cleveland comes to The Grate for the weekend.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 6:53 AM | Permalink

April 23, 2021

BMW Is The Answer To The Begged Question

This is the interlude in our chat, dear friends, in which I complain like an old "Get off my lawn" coot about modern commercial culture.

But there are benefits that can broaden a person's education. Another generation, another chance to explain what "begging the question" means and how it works.

Take, for example, the Allstate car insurance TV ad in which a BMW convertible driver sails down the road while singing a duet with his female silver hood ornament. Nice visual, though not quite as enticing on the 500th time you've seen the ad.

"You've got the brains, I've got the looks, let's make lots of money," she sings.

Their shared joy results from saving $700 on car insurance by switching to Allstate. This musical blurb is actually a sampling of the 1980s pop hit "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" by the Pet Shop Boys.

The Brit tech pop group's lyrics were intended to mock mindless Margaret Thatcher consumerism and excess. It hit the charts big in 1986.

So here are the begged questions. Begged Question Alert!

The Begged Question Alert allows readers to be outraged and chagrined about crimes unknown unless someone told them.

I try to inspire ire. It's a service.

It's a career.

The "begged question" is a literary device that leaps over a central fact and ignores a question under the assumption it has already been answered when it hasn't.

One of the underlying principles of all advertising is the lie or distortion the consumer does not recognize.

First, the simple question. If you save $700 a year on insurance for a 2016 435i BMW (the modified buggy in the commercial), how much were you paying for insurance on a car worth $35,000? Several insurance price estimators (Finder, for example) put the average price at $2,136.

So that maximum savings gives you an insurance rate of $1,500 a year. Still outrageous. But if you own a $35,000 BMW, do you really care? You have far bigger issues to confront. Besides, Allstate never loses money on an insurance policy; whatever great deal that singing driver is celebrating mostly means he was really being ripped off earlier.

The cost of insurance on a BMW 435I is the least of anyone's woes. Buckle up. The driver should wipe that smile off his face.

Take for example, said the man who knows, the intake manifold gasket, a relatively innocuous part in German cars, but it has to work all the time or your car goes kaputsky.

The intake manifold distributes air taken in through the throttle plate to the multiple cylinders. I was told this by someone who knows.

But high heat, oil and coolant contamination, plus bursts of intake air, will wear the gasket. Then you get leaks between the cylinder head and manifold. Bad, very bad, I am told.

According to various maintenance estimators, the average cost for a BMW 435i intake manifold gasket replacement is between $482 and $634. Labor costs are estimated between $418 and $527 while related parts are priced between $64 and $107.

Toss in taxes and fees.

So that part runs you easily $1,200.

That's about the cheapest part that goes bad in 435I BMWs. Example? The exhaust manifold costs $3,000 to replace.

The happy guy in the Allstate ad apparently has not taken his BMW to the shop for its first surgical visit.

The helpful advisors at Repair Pal rate the average annual BMW repair cost at $968. If you own one for 10 years, that means you spent $35,000 on the car and almost $10,000 to fix it.

Though the BMW is beautiful, it's often a Euro beater. The BMW Reliability Rating is 2.5 out of 5.0, which ranks it 30th out of 32 for all car brands. Repair Pal says the rating is based on an average across 345 unique models.

The happy-go-lucky Allstate driver seems blithely ignorant before stepping off the curb into the path of a PACE bus. Hasn't thought about what lies ahead, so saving $700 (or "making $700," as the ad says) only seems like a swell achievement.

But what if you drive a more mundane vehicle? More to the point, can you save $700 a year insuring a 2015 Honda? As in a real car that real people drive?

The folks at Quote Inspector say the average insurance rate for a 2015 Honda Accord is $1,228 a year with full coverage. Think Allstate will sell you that policy for $500 a year?

But the "begged question" in the ad is more fundamental. The principal head fake is how to define "making lots of money."

No matter how much you pay Allstate for car insurance, you are not making money. What are you? Nuts?

Allstate is making money. You are spending money. You do know the difference, don't you?

The company made $44.791 billion in net revenue in 2020. It goes up 0.25 percent every year. They know how to make money - predominantly by taking yours.

They are the "taker" and you are the "spender." The underlying "begged question" in the ad depends on who is playing which role.

When Allstate sings "Let's make lots of money," they are talking about themselves, not you. The BMW dealership has the same motives.

You just have to understand the rules.

Once you do, then proceed to more complex begged questions. For example, why are Tag Team duo Cecil Glenn and Steve Gibson in a GEICO insurance ad? They are scooping ice cream while singing a new version of their 1993 single "Whoomp! (There It Is)". The homeowner in the kitchen - Boomshakalaka Tasha - never asks these two maroons who they are, and why are they in her kitchen.

Why? WHY?

That puzzle awaits another day.

And, by the way, get off my lawn.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was Where Quarterbacks Don't Die. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 2:16 PM | Permalink

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #353: Cubs And Sox Are Different Kinds Of .500

Same record, different journeys. Plus: Zachless Bulls; Blackhawks' Splitting Headache; Cam Pro; Red Stars Finally Score A Goal; Superleague Relegated To Dustbin; Fire Season All Downhill From Here; and Draft Memo To Ryan Pace.

Beachwood Radio Network · The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #353: The Difference Between The Cubs And Sox

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SHOW NOTES

* 353.

* Coffman: "The good times do tend to roll when I'm at a bar."

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3:30: The Dunning Effect.

* Too early to sweat White Sox's .500 start.

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10:23: Cubs Already Nearing Trade Deadline.

* Not too early to declare .500 start will be their high-water mark.

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26:21: Zachless Bulls.

* Opportunistic experiment.

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34:48: Blackhawks' Splitting Headache.

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41:51: Cam Pro.

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46:51: Red Stars Finally Score A Goal.

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51:20: Superleague Relegated To Dustbin.

*

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1:01:00: Fire Season All Downhill From Here.

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1:02:34: Draft Memo To Ryan Pace.

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STOPPAGE: 7:54

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For archives and other Beachwood shows, see The Beachwood Radio Network.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:25 PM | Permalink

April 21, 2021

Another Win For Big Soda

A rogue industry. A gun to our head. Extortion.

That's how infuriated lawmakers described soft drink companies - and what they pulled off in 2018 when they scored a legislative deal that bars California's cities and counties from imposing taxes on sugary drinks.

Yet, despite its tarnished reputation, the deep-pocketed industry continues to exert its political influence in the nation's most populous state, spending millions of dollars on politically connected lobbyists and doling out campaign contributions to nearly every state lawmaker.

The result? Bills long opposed by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and other beverage companies continue to flounder. Just two weeks ago, a measure that would have undone the 2018 deal that lawmakers so vehemently protested was shelved without a hearing.

"Big Soda is a very powerful lobby," said Eric Batch, vice president of advocacy at the American Heart Association, which has petitioned lawmakers nationwide to crack down on sugar-laden drinks that health advocates say contribute to diabetes, obesity and other costly medical conditions.

"They've spent a lot of money in California to stop groups like ours from passing good policy," Batch added. "And they've been doing it for a long time."

In the past four years, soft drink companies spent about $5.9 million lobbying California lawmakers and giving to their campaigns or favorite charities. A California Healthline analysis of campaign finance records from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020, found that the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have given to nearly every state officeholder - from Gov. Gavin Newsom to roughly five-sixths of the 120-member legislature.

The American Beverage Association declined an interview request to discuss its political giving and this year's bill that would have upended the soda tax moratorium it helped orchestrate. Coca-Cola and Pepsi did not return requests seeking comment.

In 2018, the industry spent $8.9 million to boost a statewide ballot measure sponsored by the California Business Roundtable that would have made it more difficult for cities and counties to levy taxes - not just taxes on sugary drinks - by requiring them to be approved by two-thirds of voters instead of a simple majority. Fearful that local governments could face a higher voting threshold for taxes and fees that would fund libraries, public safety and other services, lawmakers at the time said they had no choice but to negotiate with the industry.

In a deal that several lawmakers described as "extortion" and a "Sophie's Choice," the legislature agreed to pass a bill banning new local taxes on sugary drinks until Jan. 1, 2031, if the industry and other supporters dropped the ballot measure. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who had dined with industry executives several weeks before, signed the bill.

The California deal was a coup for Big Soda, which doesn't appear to have paid a political price: Legislation that would have imposed a state tax on sugary drinks died a year later, as did a bill that would have required health warning labels on sugary drinks and another that would have banned sodas in grocery store checkout aisles.

This year's bill, which would have reinstated cities' and counties' ability to put soda taxes before voters, is all but dead.

"They're gaming the political system," said Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-North Hollywood), the author of AB 1163. Nazarian said he hopes to revive the measure before April 30, the deadline for policy committees to hear legislation for the year.

"It's one thing for us to make a bad policy decision once," he said. "It's another thing to give a signal to all the industries that will then utilize this loophole against us. How many more times are we going to be doing this?"

Public health advocates point to such taxes as a way to cut consumption of soda, sports drinks, fruit juices and other sweet beverages, citing studies that show the more they cost, the less people buy them.

On average, a can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, nearly the entire recommended daily amount for someone who eats 2,000 calories a day. Some energy drinks contain twice that.

Four California cities - Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco - had soda taxes in place before the 2018 legislative deal that were allowed to remain. Boulder, Philadelphia, Seattle, and the Navajo Nation also have soda taxes, with proposals under consideration in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

The revenue stream from the taxes could help fund financially strapped public health departments depleted by the COVID-19 pandemic, health advocates say.

For example, last year San Francisco directed $1.6 million of its soda tax revenue to local programs that feed residents affected by school closures and job losses.

Seattle tapped its soda tax revenue to give grocery vouchers to its hardest-hit residents.

Nazarian said he expected his attempt to undo the soda tax moratorium to be an uphill battle, but he is frustrated the bill was denied even one hearing.

Nazarian, like lawmakers before him, is butting up against a strong anti-tax environment in U.S. politics, said Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. So while more than 40 countries have imposed national taxes on sugary drinks - including the United Kingdom, Mexico, Portugal and South Africa - national and state efforts have stalled here.

There's also the political might of the soda industry.

"Look at how much money they spend fighting all these bills that have been proposed," said Andreyeva, who has studied the soda industry since 2007. "We have seen dozens and dozens of bills at the state and local level. There's always a lot of opposition by the industry. They are well-funded, they will organize and it's very hard."

In California, soft drink companies spent $4.4 million in the past four years lobbying lawmakers and state officials, treating them to dinners and sporting events. They hired veteran political firms staffed by former government employees who know how the Capitol works and often already have relationships with lawmakers and their aides.

For instance, until earlier this year the American Beverage Association had Fredericka McGee on its payroll as its top California lobbyist. She had worked for five Assembly speakers. Now, McGee is chief of staff to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, a former state legislator who in 2018 was the chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, which oversaw the deal banning new local soda taxes.

In addition to lobbying, the industry spent just over $1.5 million on contributions to lawmakers, including big checks written to charities on their behalf.

The largest contributions flowed to the lawmakers with the most influence. Pepsi and Coca-Cola gave a total of $25,000 to charities in the name of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which tracks the donations, known as "behested payments." That's on top of the $35,900 Rendon collected in his campaign account from the industry over the past four years.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins cashed $26,000 in campaign checks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and accepted a $5,000 donation to one of her charities from Coke's bottling plant in her San Diego district.

In an e-mailed statement, Rendon described the issue of sugary drinks as complex and said he co-authored legislation in 2015 that would have imposed a tax on distributors of sugary drinks. It died in committee.

"I want us to do something to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages," Rendon wrote. "These bills have been hard to pass, but I think it's simplistic to pin it on contributions."

Atkins did not comment on Big Soda's political power but wrote in an e-mailed statement that she would review Nazarian's bill "on its merits" if it comes before the senate.

Nazarian's bill is on hold in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, led by Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood). A spokesperson for Burke did not return calls and e-mails requesting comment.

Burke also received money from soda companies, collecting about $22,000 from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association from 2017 through 2020.

Public health groups aren't willing to admit defeat and are mobilizing a grassroots effort to get a hearing for Nazarian's bill. They say California must address the disproportionate health effects of sugary drinks on Black and Latino communities, which COVID-19 only exacerbated.

"If the members of the legislature were looking at data and using data as the decision-making criteria for whether we should allow a ban on local taxes to be lifted, they would have to support that," said Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a program of the Public Health Institute. "But they are not looking at the data. Something else is influencing them."

Elizabeth Lucas of KHN contributed to this report.

*

Methodology

How California Healthline compiled data about soda companies' political spending

Among the ways soft drink companies exert influence on the political process are contributing money to campaigns; hiring lobbyists; plying elected officials with drinks, meals and event tickets; and making charitable contributions on the behalf of lawmakers.

Using the California Secretary of State's website, California Healthline downloaded campaign contributions made by the American Beverage Association PAC, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo - the three largest contributors from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020.

To track lobbying, we created a spreadsheet of expenses reported on lobbying disclosure forms, also available on the Secretary of State's website, by the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. We found details about how much the industry paid lobbying firms and which lawmakers, or members of their staff, accepted gifts.

To find how much these entities gave in charitable contributions, California Healthline pulled data on "behested payments" from the California Fair Political Practices Commission website. These are payments special interests can make to a charity or organization on behalf of a lawmaker. Sometimes, a few of these payments also show up on lobbying forms. We compared the behested payments with the lobbying reports to ensure we did not double-count money.

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See also:
* Radio NL: "Sugar Tax" Applauded By BC Health Advocate Groups.

* The First News: Sugar Tax To Finance National Health Fund Campaigns.

* The Star: Sugar Tax Successful In Lowering Soft Drink Sugar Content.

* Taxing Sugar Levels In Soda Could Prevent 2 Million U.S. Cases Of Diabetes And Cardiovascular Disease, Study Says.

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Previously in soda taxes:
* Soda Tax Could Save Thousands Of Lives And $1 Billion In Mexico.

* Cook County Repeal Of Soda Tax Was A Mortal Mistake.

* The [Tuesday] Papers, February 20, 2018:

"The beverage industry created 'Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County' in August. One purpose of the PAC: It was an unsubtle political threat hanging over the commissioners who did not support the repeal.

"The grassroots-sounding name was designed to deliberately obfuscate the fact that the PAC, spawned with the help of the American Beverage Association, gets almost all of its funding from companies related to the beverage industry.

"The PAC treasurer is lawyer/lobbyist Michael Kasper, who also does work for Illinois House Speaker/Democratic Party of Illinois chair Michael Madigan."

* Where 'Yes! To Affordable Groceries' Really Means No to a Soda Tax.

* Soda Industry Steals Page From Tobacco To Combat Taxes On Sugary Drinks.

* Seattle Council Locks In Fund For Soda-Tax Revenue, Overriding Mayor Durkan's Veto.

* Soda Taxes Work.

* Cook County's Soda Tax Worked.

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Comments welcome.



Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 7:35 AM | Permalink

April 20, 2021

They Do Run Run

Lar Daly, meet Jim Oberweis.

Jim Oberweis, meet Lar Daly.

Totally preposterous meets vainglorious nincompoop. The identities virtually are interchangeable. As TV prosecutor Hamilton Burger used to tell Perry Mason: "Incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial."

They both spent 40 years in politics without ever achieving a moment of real usefulness.

Daly and Oberweis wave at each other across the cosmic divide of political time and space, each as goofy as the other. But as The Crystals sang, they "Da Doo Run Run."

They are both famous for failure, sort of inventors of a light bulb that never works.

As Illinois contributions to resilient political buffoonery, they are to public service what Carrot Top and Gallagher are to thoughtful humor. Their bars are set low, even if you are an aardvark.

Congratulations, Illinois.

You have provided comedic relief to the political gloom. As for Oberweis, the ice cream magnate of Aurora, don't let him stand close to a watermelon with a five-iron in his hand. He would Gallagherize the melon because he's just that sort of guy.

Though not widely publicized because Indiana has enough problems on its own, Lar Daly was born in Gary in 1912. In fact, he died this week in 1979. You would miss him only if your life is bereft of eccentricity and substance. But he was charming, sort of like Marty Feldman's "Igor" eyes that could look in different directions simultaneously as if he were an iguana.

His parents were Irish immigrants. Dad was a Gary cop who moved his two sons to Chicago's South Side after their mom died. Lar was 6. He hit the streets selling fresh vegetables from a cart. He was good at it.

Oberweis is doing his best Lar Daly imitation in the 14th Illinois congressional district election, though he is less charming than irritating. You thought that was settled? Wrong. He has been trying to overturn Democrat Lauren Underwood's re-election victory ever since before the votes were counted last November. She beat him by 5,400 votes. He's not taking the voters' "no" for an answer.

If the entire infrastructure of democracy tells Oberweis to go sit in the corner, it will make the seventh time in seven national elective office elections he has lost. (He did win a state senate seat in 2012.) He apparently is slow at catching subtle inferences.

He's retired now from managing his eponymous commercial dairy, so he needs more time for golf.

Rich Miller of Capitol Fax did a point-by-point assessment of Oberweis's case for victory, and the evidence reflects Oberweis apparently misunderstands how elections work in 2021. Also, there's something very "fishy" about vote-by-mail. It's a plot. Where's Rudy and Sidney Powell when you need them? Very Trumpian. And very Oberweisian.

As far back as 2014, a Roll Call profile noted his "Milk Dud" appellation, and that was the Republican view.

Roll Call reminded us that Oberweis at that point had "spent a combined $4 million losing GOP primaries for the Senate in 2002 and 2004 (note: mostly his own money). Then he put $2.2 million more into a runner-up bid for the 2006 gubernatorial nomination. And then he threw $3.8 million at twin quests for the House in 2008, but was unable to hold what looked like a reliably Republican district in either the special or general elections after former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert resigned."

Daly never seemed to care if he won. Running and making everyone uncomfortable was his raison d'être. He just wanted to play the game. Oberweis wants to win, but can't. He's not very good at it.

Oberweis's campaigns are mostly financed by him, and he constantly underfunds himself.

How does a bad candidate act? He led the state senate's veto override to increase rural highway speed limits from 65 mph to 70 mph. He listed the override as his most noteworthy Senate achievement. Really? That's just sad. Then the Chicago Tribune found he'd been ticketed for speeding 11 times since 1988.

The week before one winter primary he went to Florida to spend a week golfing with his second wife for her birthday. He seems to lack some DNA component of public service.

But he's almost 75 now, which does not give enough time to catch Daly, who ran 30 times and never won, often for president and sometimes as a simultaneous member of both parties. If we elected a King of the Solar System, Daly would have chased that, too.

Daly was sort of the Bill Veeck of loser strategy.

Daly did get 75,000 votes once, trying to dunk Sen. Charles Percy, a fact that Illinois should remember with some embarrassed humility. Though he did not get past his first year of high school, he ran for Cook County Superintendent of Schools, and lost with 300,000 votes accumulated mostly because his name "sounded Irish."

There was no official Looney Fringe Party then, other than Southern Democrat racists, like there are now with the modern GOP. Daly pretty much carried the "America First" banner all by himself on days when the Klan was getting its sheets laundered.

I only know about Lawrence Joseph Sarsfield Daly because of my father, who somehow adopted Lar "America First" Daly as his personal, universal symbol for idiocy. Any discussion about useless human beings, ignorant political concepts or junk commercial products would invoke a comparison to Daly.

At one time Dad alluded to a hometown beer brand from Southern Indiana - Sterling - as the "Lar Daly of Beers."

"Lar Daly" was shorthand for everything useless but resiliently intrusive in your life. It took energy to ignore them, and that was their only real power. As with mosquitos, their energy was spent irritating you.

He won one election in 1932 for Republican ward committeeman, and never seemed disheartened he'd never win again. They found he was 20 that fall, and ineligible to run. Beat it, Lar.

But he persisted.

He ran 30 times for every office on the ballot and never won again.

Oberweis gave up his state senatorship to challenge Underwood. He followed the Trumpian protest model, and declared victory even before the votes were counted.

My personal theory is that voters in the 25th Senate District elected him because its suburban counties regularly lean right, but also just to make him go away. Far, far away.

His campaign advertisements have teetered on the precipice of racialism, if not racism. Not Oath Keepers-Proud Boys racism, of course. But people with brown skin do not leap to his side easily.

He has campaigned with a former soldier pardoned by Trump for murdering Afghanistan civilians. He switched sides to "OK, if you insist" on same-sex marriage. Wanted to kill Obamacare.

But mostly he has been an inconsequential-to-bad candidate.

As an exemplar of eccentricity, Daly was far more interesting and compelling. He often dressed as Uncle Sam with red, white and blue ribbons and a tall hat. He had a deep, resonant radio voice. He put campaign signs on his coat. He was an isolationist Libertarian.

He was odd and passionate though this was an antique era in which non-conformity did not come armed with guns. Daly was strange and, almost as a comfort, he seemed to realize that.

In 1960, he briefly broke through the bozo barrier by using the federal "Equal Time Law" requiring TV and radio to provide time to all competing candidates. They had not factored Daly's insistent crackpotism into the calculus.

He eventually bulled his way legally onto Jack Paar's NBC Tonight Show after Jack Kennedy got an interview. Paar gaped open-mouthed as Daly described his philosophy: "Your only choice is America first - or death."

Paar nearly fainted. Paar often almost fainted. Cut briskly to commercial.

Congress changed the law as fast as it could.

According to Unremembered, "Daly lived in a modest two-story brick bungalow on Chicago's South Side and drove a Ford Station wagon, painted red, white and blue. He had six children and sold bar stools for a living. 'To bookies,' he once said, 'so they had somewhere to stand when they wrote the odds on the chalkboard.'"

A month before he died, Daly is believed to have pawned his Uncle Sam outfit for cash.

Oberweis is a multimillionaire. Plays lots of golf.

Oberweis's second wife, Julie, moved her legal self to Florida, and changed her official voting residence.

She has not voted for Oberweis recently. As for who lives where and with whom, the political issue soon will be moot and mute.

The chances Oberweis will cast a vote in the U.S. House seems remote. As a matter of fact, why Oberweis is even pursuing the grail is unclear unless he seeks redemption. Maybe he wants to untangle the "perpetual loser" knot hung around his neck.

As for the Oberweises, they now share ownership of a $1.2 million four-bedroom condo in Bonita Springs, near Fort Myers. For the record, the area contiguous to Fort Myers contains 92 golf courses.

Daly didn't play golf. He was too busy running after history.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was Where Quarterbacks Don't Die. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 10:17 AM | Permalink

Where Quarterbacks Don't Die

Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon at least has the efficiency not to launch himself 240,000 miles to the moon as Neil Armstrong did only to say the wrong profound quote when he got there.

So when McMahon last week spit insultingly across the ethernet chasm at the Bears, Bears quarterbacks, Bears fans, and Bears management and owners - plus virtually the entirety of Chicago and Bozo The Clown - at least he didn't have to travel off-planet to send his missive.

Chicago is "where quarterbacks go to die," he told the Fat Mike Chicago Sports podcast show this week. Yes, another reason you just love to hate podcasts.

As for the bodies of dead quarterbacks, you see them everywhere. Their corpses are buried under Michigan Avenue and Bronzeville and Streeterville - and maybe a few in Winnetka and Minooka - and some are left floating in Lake Michigan like marker buoys. The bodies of these deceased Bears pocket gassers and gimpy scramblers are everywhere.

We pause for a podcast yellow news alert for missing quarterbacks. None of that is true.

What he meant to say, of course, is that "Chicago is where quarterbacks go when their career dies." Or maybe "playing for the Bears kills your career," or "The Bears ruin the careers of their quarterbacks." All of those assertions are provable and debate-worthy to some degree.

There is no record of any dead Bears quarterback being carted off Soldier Field in the second quarter.

None of those alternative quotes is as poetic and mellifluous as what McMahon said. His quote is more lyrical because it's not true either figuratively or the real world.

With any luck, we won't have to be exposed to several years of McMahon explaining what he meant to say.

Astronaut Armstrong flew 500,000 miles round-trip o land on the Moon and then say the wrong words on behalf of all humanity. That's a long trip to mess up the script.

Armstrong spent the next 43 years insisting he did not say what we heard him say. So McMahon has a high bar to leap for deep regret.

The 600 million humans who watched on their Earth-plugged televisions mostly thought he said "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," which makes no sense because "man" and "mankind" are essentially the same collective philosophical plurals. NASA insisted later that Armstrong had said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." That's the one you'd want etched in history.

But both Armstrong and McMahon said what they said. Spin doesn't help. Life is not precise art.

First, as a matter of mortuary science, very few Bears quarterbacks died in Chicago or are buried here as far as we know. A high number would imply quarterbacks really liked Chicago.

Given the team's history of dopiness, why would they?

Chicagoans need their hired help to love being here. And love Chicago while you're at it. But the minions don't, apparently.

If they had loved the city so much they might have stayed around after their careers. They always assert their love for their neighborhoods, city ambiance and Lou Malnati's pizza. Loved those two months of 43-degree weather that Chicagoans amusingly call spring.

Who seeks out Chicago's winters unless they are paid for the torture?

Former Bears q-backs have died in California, Florida, Georgia . . . and a few went back to ancestral homes to croak. Perhaps there are ancient exceptions. But they didn't die here. They often got out as quickly as their airline tickets and Model A's could arrange.

But McMahon's underlying premise is also inaccurate. No quarterback who played for the Bears really had a stellar career to kill before they came here. If they had been any good, their previous employer wouldn't have traded them here.

Mostly, Bears quarterbacks have ended up as mediocre carpenters just as they were upon arrival. The Bears did not elevate their game to stardom, but there wasn't much stardom to their juice. It was kismet. A match of mediocre equals made in heaven.

However, none of them, even McMahon, made the Bears better than the team would have been without them.

Even Mitch Trubisky of recent ignominy was a worker bee college quarterback. Every year's crop produces another half dozen just like him.

Jim Miller was a mediocre losing-record talent at Michigan State, drafted in the sixth round by the Steelers and then kicked around several franchises before six years with the Bears in which he had 36 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. As with most Bears quarterbacks, the franchise did not doom his career. They had precisely the career that mediocre players have. He became at the end who he was at the beginning.

He's a Chicago broadcaster and still alive, as of Tuesday morning.

Jay Cutler is still alive too, in Tennessee. Took a $3 million loss on his Nashville mansion just to get way from his estranged wife. Or maybe she took the loss to get away from him. Either could be true. Or both. In any case, he's not coming back to Chicago to die.

Just as well. Bears fans have had enough of Cutler while he is alive, and he apparently has had enough of Bears fans.

When Cutler passes, his obituary will not begin "Beloved former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler went to meet his lord and savior . . . "

The evidence does not suggest in general that he and the 83 former Bears quarterbacks had much lingering sentimental affection for the city - at least not enough to live here after their careers. Most flee for somewhere permanently warm just as you and most of your neighbors will if retirement cash stretches to Phoenix.

Even the great players of Chicago's past - Grange, Luckman and Lujack - were professionals. Bears players are working for a living, to state the obvious. Workers toil on Alaska oil rigs without intending to retire to Skagway.

The residents of Skagway are not miffed.

Quarterbacks aside, what McMahon seemed to want remembered by his malapropism is simpler than football schematics. He was saying: Not only do the people who run the Bears stink as professionals and as people, but he likes Green Bay's classiness much better. He was saying the franchise stunk when he was part of it, and it stinks now.

Oh, the cynical grievance forced upon long-suffering Bears fans. Bears quarterbacks and their fans always have endured this permanent stasis of unrequited love. Maybe it's mostly love-hate. And it's more hate than love. Or perhaps just derision.

As for McMahon's case, there is little reason he should have been exposed to the podcast.

True, he can make for entertaining bravura. But he's 62 now and damaged in mind and body. He's angry at past insults and likely has a right to be.

But McMahon was diagnosed with early onset dementia at least 10 years ago. He's had a dozen serious football concussions, he still struggles with memory loss, severe headaches and depression. At times, the pressure on his skull becomes overwhelming. He has vision problems and speech difficulties.

He told the Virginian Pilot newspaper in 2017 that he had often contemplated suicide. He should not be trotted out for someone else's ratings.

As of last record in 2018, he had put his $2.5 million home in Scottsdale, Arizona up for sale.

He had no announced plans to revisit Chicago cemeteries when the time comes.

Perhaps, at last, it's time to let Jim McMahon go in peace elsewhere as many others have.

Indeed, only Bernie Masterson (1934 to 1940 and buried in Des Plaines) and Joey Sternaman (played 1922 and buried in Oak Park) defied the trend.

The Bears' first quarterback Pard "Walter Irving" Peace was born in Rhode Island, died in Rhode Island and is buried in Rhode Island.

The destination of choice is California: Rudy Bukich in Del Mar, George Blanda in Alameda, and Ed Brown in San Luis Obispo. (Johnny Lujack, 96, lives in Southern California, apparently impervious to mortality.)

Florida is also a good final stop: Sid Luckman in Aventura and Zeke Bratkowski in Santa Rose Beach.

Some quarterbacks go home after the games end. Jack Concannon was born, died and buried near Boston. Larry Rakestraw, a Georgia kid, died in Suwannee and was buried there. Billy Wade grew up in Nashville, went home after his Bears career, and died there.

The greatest Bear of all and most associated with the team's glorious beginning was Harold "Red" Grange, the "Galloping Ghost" from Illinois. Though a halfback in the single wing days, Grange functioned most as the bedrock of the team's offense. When he died in 1991 in Lake Wales, Florida, his remains were cremated and the ashes given to his widow, Margaret "Muggs" Grange.

She brought the ashes back to Illinois - but not to Chicago or Soldier Field. Many unchallenged rumors suggested she spread the ashes on the field at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. That was as close to Chicago as he wanted to be.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was When We Were Vaccine Guinea Pigs. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:12 AM | Permalink

April 19, 2021

A Box Of No-Hitters

No-hitters come along about two a season, and they come in a variety of shapes and forms. Sort of like a box of chocolates. You bite into one hoping for something sweet like caramel or strawberry, but occasionally you get an unknown foreign substance which requires the nearest trashcan for relief.

Carlos Rodon's masterpiece last Wednesday evening obviously was of the former variety. The 307th no-hitter in major league history going back to 1875 would have been baseball's 28th perfect game except for a Rodon slider which nipped the left foot of Cleveland catcher Roberto Pérez with one out in the top of the ninth inning.

Pérez, a husky fellow, could be excused for not leaping out of the way. With two strikes, he was digging in and trying to reach base. A strikeout and groundout followed to complete Rodon's artistry, the 20th no-hitter in team history. The Sox lead the American League in that category.

The feel-good story of Carlos Rodon has been well-documented. A first-round draft choice (3rd overall) in 2014 out of North Carolina State, the brawny left-hander has had his moments of brilliance marred by injuries resulting first in an arthroscopic procedure to his left shoulder in 2017 followed by Tommy John surgery for a damaged elbow a year-and-a-half later. When the Sox non-tendered Rodon after last season, his South Side days very well could have ended.

Thankfully, the story continued when Rodon re-signed with the Sox on Feb. 1 for one year at $3 million. A strong spring training earned Rodon the fifth spot in this season's rotation, and his lone start prior to the no-no came on April 5 in Seattle where he covered five scoreless innings, yielding a couple of hits in a 6-0 White Sox victory.

Manager Tony La Russa stuck with Rodon after Pérez reached base, and Rodon responded with a 98.8 mph heater en route to his 114-pitch gem. Keep in mind that Rodon was scratched from last Monday's start because of an upset stomach, which raised the COVID-19 specter, but, indeed, his boiler simply was in disarray. By the ninth inning Wednesday, he was a picture of health and then some. Whether he was operating on a rush of adrenaline or sheer willpower - most likely a combination of both - the 28-year-old clearly had plenty remaining in the tank. The performance was simply glorious.

Rodon's teammates helped out by scoring six runs in the first inning. After three frames, the Sox led by the final count of 8-0. Ask any pitcher what it feels like to pitch with a big lead, and they'll provide a glowing account of his teammates for diminishing the pressure of a close game.

As Sox fans are well aware, the previous no-hitter for the franchise occurred last Aug. 25 when Lucas Giolito blanked the Pirates 4-0. A fourth inning walk was the lone blemish on Gio's bid for a perfect game.

The team's initial hitless game was pitched by a guy named Jimmy (Nixey) Callahan back in 1902, a 3-0 blanking of the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 20. Callahan, who also played the outfield, won 16 games that season while hitting .234.

Between Callahan's and Rodon's heroics, the Sox have had no-hitters both artful and sloppy. Mark Buehrle's no-hitter in April of 2007, a 6-0 triumph over the Texas Rangers, featured one baserunner: Sammy Sosa, who walked in the fifth inning and was promptly picked off by Buehrle.

Of course, Buehrle one-upped himself with his perfect game on July 23, 2009, beating Tampa Bay 5-0, preserved by "The Catch" by Dewayne Wise in the top of the ninth, robbing current San Francisco Giant skipper Gabe Kapler of extra bases.

Philip Humber etched himself into White Sox annals in April of 2012 in Seattle with his perfecto, beating the Mariners 4-0 in his second start of the season. Unfortunately, Humber, a former first-round pick of the Mets, never came close to matching his masterpiece after his heroics against the Mariners. Five days later, the Red Sox clobbered him for nine runs over five innings.

Between the perfect game and the end of the season, Humber went 4-5 with an ERA of 7.39. He was put on waivers after the season. The Astros took a chance on Humber for 2013, but Philip lost all his eight decisions with an ERA of 7.90. He closed out his career in 2015, pitching in Korea. Humber's perfect game was like a bogey golfer shooting par. No one can take it away from him. These things occasionally happen.

Going back to the 1976 season, Sox hurlers Blue Moon Odom, in the twilight of his career after being a stalwart in Oakland, and Francisco Barrios combined on a no-hitter to beat the A's 2-1. Odom walked nine hitters in five innings and Barrios two more. The A's lone run scored on two walks, a stolen base and an error. The 1983 division-winning Sox invented the phrase "Winning Ugly," but that July day 45 years ago certainly deserved the moniker.

Another less than memorable no-no occurred 10 years later on Sept. 19 when Sox pitcher Joe Cowley pitched a complete game against the Angels, beating the Halos 7-1. Cowley walked eight, but he didn't allow a hit. Cowley never won another game, closing out his career the next season with the Phillies.

Perhaps the most inept no-hitter ever pitched belongs to Bobo Holloman on May 6, 1953, pitching for the dismal St. Louis Browns, owned at the time by Bill Veeck. Holloman was an ineffective relief pitcher who lobbied his manager Marty Marion for a starting spot. Holloman claimed his poor performances were due to the fact that he was truly a starting pitcher.

In the rain and cold of St. Louis, Marion granted Holloman's wish, no doubt figuring that the club could release the cocky hurler after the game against the Philadelphia A's, who slammed the ball all over the field but directly at Browns' defenders. Holloman walked five and even committed an error, but the A's failed to get one hit off Holloman.

In his next start, Holloman lasted 1⅓ innings. Subtract the nine hitless innings against the A's, and Holloman's ERA was 6.07 for the 1953 season, the lone year of his major league career.

Virgil (Fireball) Trucks was one of the American League's top pitchers in the '40s and '50s, winning 177 games for five different teams. He went 47-26 for the White Sox in 1953-55. However, pitching for the Tigers in 1952, Trucks won just five games while losing 19. Amazingly, of Trucks five wins were two no-hitters, and he also hurled a one-hit marvel. He won all three contests by a 1-0 score.

Then there was Edwin Jackson's no-no on June 25, 2010, when he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jackson pitched for 14 different teams, including stints with both the White Sox and Cubs, during a 17-year career in which he pitched almost 2,000 innings. In his 1-0 no-hitter against Tampa Bay, Jackson required 149 pitches to complete the deed. He walked eight that night.

While perfect games and no-hitters can occur anytime and from the most unlikely competitors, the great pitchers have a tendency to repeat these milestones. Nolan Ryan tossed seven no-hitters. Sandy Koufax accomplished the feat four times. Justin Verlander has pitched three no-hitters.

Johnny Vander Meer, winner of 119 games between 1937 and 1951 primarily with mediocre Cincinnati clubs, pitched two no-hitters in consecutive starts in 1938. We probably won't see that again, although Rodon will have his chance Tuesday in Cleveland.

One might assume that a no-hitter provides energy and a boost to a ballclub, but there is a dearth of evidence to support that theory. After Rodon's beauty, the Sox dropped a 4-2 decision to Cleveland the next night before traveling to Boston where snow postponed Friday's game before the Red Sox beat the Sox 7-4 on Saturday.

When Giolito blanked the Pirates last season, the team still experienced a meltdown at the end of the year, dropping seven of its final eight games before bowing out of the playoffs against Oakland.

The White Sox rebounded nicely on Sunday, beating Boston in a pair of seven-inning games 3-2 and 5-1 to even their record at 8-8. Solid defense and a bullpen that lived up to its preseason press clippings highlighted the White Sox sweep along with Michael Kopech who started Sunday's second game, limiting the Red Sox to just one hit and a single run over three innings.

On Monday they'll face the Bosox in the annual Patriots' Day game, a Boston tradition started in 1959 to coincide with the Boston Marathon, which won't be run until October 11 this year. The morning starting time with feature a match-up between Giolito and Red Sox ace Nathan Eovaldi. Then it's on to Cleveland where we'll see whether Rodon resembles one of those chocolate goodies with a filling that pleases our taste buds.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 6:45 AM | Permalink

April 16, 2021

White Castle's New Uniforms Include Durags

White Castle's 10,000 team members will soon be sporting a new uniform designed specifically to commemorate the fast-food hamburger chain's 100th birthday this year.

Created by renowned and award-winning New York City fashion line TELFAR, the new uniform collection includes a T-shirt, polo shirt, apron, visor and durag, all in light blue, royal blue or black. Each piece features the brand name "White Castle" with references to the iconic chain celebrating 100 years "and counting."

The durag was added to the uniform collection in response to many White Castle team members who requested it. It's the first time White Castle has offered the hair accessory and might be the first time any restaurant has done so.

The new uniform collection is captured in an intimate portrait series of White Castle team members in Queens, shot by art photographer Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

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"We wanted something special for our 100th birthday that captures the authentic spirit of White Castle and, as always, TELFAR came through for us," said Jamie Richardson, a vice president at White Castle. "TELFAR has taken our uniform to a new place, creating something that's distinctive, attractive and comfortable, and something our team members will feel great in whether they're at work or hanging out with friends and family."

TELFAR and White Castle first connected in 2015 when TELFAR's founder and longtime White Castle fan Telfar Clemens asked White Castle to sponsor their fashion show during New York Fashion Week. White Castle not only sponsored the show, but also hosted the after party at its Times Square restaurant.

The two brands partnered again in 2017 when TELFAR designed a new team member uniform for the family-owned company. Since then, TELFAR has designed and produced three more sets of White Castle team member uniforms, including the 100th birthday version.

"White Castle supported us before our success and we consider them family," said Babak Radboy, TELFAR's creative director. "Their team would serve sliders backstage at all our shows and were basically part of our team. It's still the only thing open after midnight in TELFAR's hood - seeing our uniforms there means something to us, and so we take it personally."

In addition to designing employee uniforms, TELFAR also designed a limited-edition White Castle collection, including hats, hoodies and T-shirts, that feature a mashup of White Castle's and TELFAR's logos. Proceeds from this line are donated to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Liberty and Justice Fund, which provides bail to imprisoned minors.

"This is a special friendship between a 100-year-old food business and a 15-year-old fashion house," Richardson said. "We have genuine reverence for TELFAR's vision and originality, and more importantly, we believe working together provides us the opportunity to make the world a better place."

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 3:14 PM | Permalink

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #352: Chicago 0-5

Our teams suck. Including: Rodon vs. Godzilla; COVIDY Crappy Clueless Cubs: Bulls Shit; Blackhawks Shit; Sky's Blue Sky; Red Stars Stuck; Down Fire Up; CeeYa CeePee; Underwood's Portal; and Leaving Lovie.

Beachwood Radio Network · The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #352: Chicago 0-5

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SHOW NOTES

* 352.

:19: Sky Drafts Heal.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman Delivers The Goods.

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8:06: Rodon vs. Godzilla.

vs.

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33:01: COVIDY Crappy Clueless Cubs.

*

*

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45:30 Bulls Shit.

* Also COVIDY.

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52:10: Blackhawks Shit.

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53:47 Red Stars Stuck.

* McCranev, Hot Time In Old Town: "Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames says he's been 'trying different combinations' through his team's first two NWSL Challenge Cup matches. Defensively, those combinations are working well. The Red Stars have given up just one shot on goal through 180 minutes. The team's attack, however, is a much different story, failing to score for the second straight match, resulting in a 1-0 loss to the Portland Thorns Thursday night at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview."

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58:30: Down Fire Up.

* Mikula, Tribune: "[The Chicago] Fire as they begin the 2021 Major League Soccer season Saturday against the New England Revolution at Soldier Field (7:30 p.m., WGN-9). About 7,000 fans will be allowed to attend for the first time since 2019.

"The Fire signed just four players in the offseason - forward Chinonso Offor, winger Stanislav Ivanov, defender Jhon Espinoza and striker Jhon Jader Durán, who won't join the team until 2022.

"The limited number of signings was intentional as the Fire hope increased familiarity will bring about improved results, sporting director Georg Heitz said.

"'We had so many new players last season, we have to be careful otherwise we will never be successful,' he told the Tribune earlier this year. 'These players all need a bit of time to adapt, and if you bring in another six new players, seven new players, this doesn't help at all. They have to get used to this special league.'

"Meanwhile, the Fire parted with forward C.J. Sapong, midfielders Djordje Mihailovic, Jeremiah Gutjahr, Micheal Azira and Bradnt Bronico and goalkeeper Connor Sparrow.

"Mihailovic arguably is the Fire's biggest loss after leading the team in assists last season. He was traded to CF Montréal in a deal worth up to $1 million."

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1:01:44: CeeYa CeePee.

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1:03:25: Underwood's Portal.

* Ryan, Tribune: "On the first day of the regular signing period, Illinois announced four-star forward RJ Melendez and three-star guard Brandin Podziemski have signed their letters of intent, while the news of former Florida forward Omar Payne's transfer became official.

"Melendez and Podziemski join four-star forward Luke Goode, who signed in November during the early signing period, in a 2021 recruiting class that ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 28th nationally in 247Sports.com's composite ratings."

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1:05:47: Leaving Lovie.

* Simmons, Pro Football Talk: "The college game, it's a lot more quarterback-run-dominated offenses. I think our system - and everybody has a system, you tweak it from year to year. But I don't think we'll have to adjust ours that much.

"In college we weren't able to run our entire system. Most of the time [offenses] go three receivers - we kept our base defense on the field. We didn't play our nickel packages much. So I think our defense is more suited for the NFL game and we'll make the tweaks and things like that."

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STOPPAGE: 8:51

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SHOW NOTES NOTES
* Lindsey Pulliam does not appear to come from the Pulliam newspaper family.

* The DH-pitcher thing is indeed occurring in the Atlantic League this season.

* Tony Clark "encourages" players to get vaccinated.

* Epididymitis.

* Point guards in free agency this summer.

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For archives and other Beachwood shows, see The Beachwood Radio Network.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:24 PM | Permalink

April 13, 2021

When We Were Vaccine Guinea Pigs

Mom and Dad were kids who survived the Great Depression and World War II, so by the time I came along, not much scared them.

But as spring 1954 arrived, they both were jittery and tense though never hysterical. They were not the hysterical sort. They were a "snap out of it" sort of people.

But they were deeply fearful for me and my younger brother.

They were afraid of polio. Everybody was.

In our quest for safety, Mom and I drove the 13 miles north from Boynton Beach and lined up with maybe a thousand strong in a spacious elementary gym in Palm Beach, Fla., one May morning. We were dressed in our starched, pressed Sunday finery, even the moms. I thought there must have been a million kids in that gym.

A year earlier on March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus that causes polio. He gave the vaccine to himself, his wife and his three children. He did the test in his kitchen after boiling the needles and syringes on his stovetop.

My mother took great confidence that Salk persuaded his wife to take the shot.

But he needed a massive gene pool of guinea pigs. That's where I came in.

We might have been lab rats in the initial mass test of the vaccine. No matter. It was a vaccine and as far as medical science knew, it thwarted polio. That "if-then" promise would have been enough for my mother.

I have no recollection that my younger brother was vaccinated in that first experiment. Perhaps Mom and Dad designated him as a back-up son in the bullpen just in case the vaccine gave me the disease. Can't be too careful.

Thus, off to Palm Beach we drove for the grand preventative cure.

We were all 7- or 8-year-old sweaty little lab monkeys, and moms gripped our hands tightly lest we might escape. I do not recall my mother ever holding my hand that tightly, either before that day or after. It was as if we all would slip into an endless abyss if they let our hands loose.

The gym dripped and sizzled in nervous anticipation, mostly our moms. Big floor fans kept the heavy air moving. It was hot, but it always was hot, smelly and sweaty in South Florida.

We basted in our own fragrant sweat. The first time I saw that happen to a Thanksgiving turkey no one had to explain the procedure to me.

Nurses and orderlies all in white uniforms and white shoes hustled to and fro, as the line eased forward one inoculation at a time. Every 30 seconds, we all took one stride closer to rescue.

It was May 4, as best as I can recall the specifics.

It was the morning Salk and his polio vaccine saved our lives.

Of course, polio was hardly the deadliest illness then, but it rode on fear's coattails because polio struck without warning.

But Salk's magic elixir saved us from death or permanent paralysis. Shielded us from the gruesome iron lung machine, a massive, cylindrical sarcophagus that even children knew was a mechanical form of living death. If those afflicted were lucky to survive, they could spend the rest of their lives in a wheel chair, relearning how to walk and stand with withered muscles. And learn how to will their lungs to breathe again.

Salk was a virtual god to moms everywhere.

Even at 7, I knew what polio did. It killed you. Mostly it killed children.

We were not a family that staged "family counsels" to share information, opinions and advice. Thank goodness that 1954 spared us that indignity.

But even at 7, I paid attention to whispered conversations in adjoining rooms. I knew polio. Dad was a newspaper man, and the papers were full of fearful headlines. I was an early reader.

On the first week of May, thousands of Florida kids lined up just as I did, and had their lives changed. The state was emotionally wrought that spring because a polio outbreak had swept through it.

According to the Palm Beach Post of that day in 1952, the nation had 58,000 cases. Broward County and Fort Lauderdale - 30 miles to the south of Boynton Beach - had 95 in 1954.

Palm Beach County, where we lived, had more than 60 kids stricken. Polio swamped children's hospitals in West Palm Beach and Miami.

Those totals seem moderate compared to COVID-19's current death toll. But we were a smaller nation then, and Florida was only a foreshadowed hint of the sweaty colossus it became.

Only 2.7 million people populated the entire state that year. There are 23 million now.

But human emotions might not fit on a demographic sliding scale. Every heartache in a nation of 130 million, as it was in 1954, might be just as intense as a nation of 331 million. But we were lucky. We had not yet found that satellite-distributed media malevolence could torment us into heightened fear. There was no money yet in enraging the nation's guttural instincts.

There was no social media to ratchet the panic, and we were insulated except for rumors. Plus, every other state in the nation seemed like a foreign land to us then. At least to me.

Once a year, we would take the round trip 1,000 miles both ways from Boynton to my hometown of Danville, Ky. I and my brother occupied the back seat of Mom and Dad's old Mercury. It seemed like being hurled to a different galaxy riding on a lumpy mattress.

In 1954, the scope of life was condensed into smaller but more intense pockets of sensation. Your tragedies all seemed immediate to your home.

But even then, losing hundreds of children in your state to a mystery contagion was a cruel, monstrous, fearsome tragedy.

Salk's vaccine worked, just as he promised it would. We trusted science then, and trusted scientists too. Mom held an odd affection for the atomic bomb because, as she said, American scientists said it would work and it did.

As newspapers reported, the whole world hailed the breakthrough against a mysterious virus. Since 1920, polio had crippled 550,000 Americans and killed 46,500 - most of them children. Florida counted about 8,000 cases. But besides the numerical toll, polio was fear-inducing because no one knew exactly how it worked, how it spread or what caused it.

The virus likely had accompanied humanity through millennia.

As the authoritative Philadelphia College of Physicians noted, "Poliovirus enters the body through the mouth, multiplying along the way to the digestive tract, where it further multiplies. In about 98 percent of cases, polio is a mild illness, with no symptoms or with viral-like symptoms. In paralytic polio, the virus leaves the digestive tract, enters the bloodstream, and then attacks nerve cells. Fewer than 1 percent - 2 percent of people who contract polio become paralyzed. In severe cases, the throat and chest may be paralyzed. Death may result if the patient does not receive artificial breathing support."

Sound familiar?

That day and year are so long ago that we might be tempted to think we clearly are advanced now. Science might be improved, but we are not provably improved as a nation of rational thinkers.

Sixty-seven years should have given us a better crack at intelligence on such matters as deadly viruses. Do you feel smarter? If anything, we appear to have become far dumber responded to important topics.

As for COVID-19, the same strain of lifelong scientist who told us the Salk vaccine and atomic bomb would work now tell us to take the COVID vaccine, wear face masks, stay six feet away from strangers and wash your hands frequently.

Do that, and COVID-19 gets sent to the biological ash heap of deadly microbes.

It's almost the same prescription that ditched small pox, cholera, measles, mumps, rabies, anthrax, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, and tuberculosis, to name a few.

We took the vaccine. It worked. According to the Centers for Disease Control, polio cases plummeted to fewer than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s.

There has not been a natively generated polio case in America since 1979.

Mom and Dad relaxed that summer of 1954. We all were happier, even the sweaty guinea pigs.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was The Quest For Papa's Perfect Sentence. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 2:03 PM | Permalink

Imagining What Alien Life Might Look Like

Animals as varied as sharks, salamanders, and duck-billed platypuses can detect electric fields around them, while some fish, including the South American knifefish and various species of African elephantfish, can actually generate unique, complex electric fields, which they use to communicate information about their social status, sex, and dominance position within their social group.

Could animals like these exist in space? On a celestial body with completely dark oceans, such as Saturn's moon Enceladus, our notion of evolution would support this method of communication, leading us to believe that aliens on such a planet might concoct their language out of electric signals.

These are the kinds of musings that can help us postulate about alien life, according to The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens - and Ourselves, by University of Cambridge zoologist Arik Kershenbaum.

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Humans have been trying to figure out where alien life is and what it might be like for centuries, from Johannes Kepler's science fiction to Harvard professor Avi Loeb's recent book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, which argues that a mysterious interstellar object passed through our solar system in 2017.

Kershenbaum argues that we can figure out quite a lot about how these aliens would look and act by asking the right questions based on observations of the incredible biodiversity here on Earth.

Kershenbaum has studied wolves in Yellowstone National Park, dolphins in the Red Sea, and small mammals called hyraxes in Israel, and the crux of his argument revolves around his experience as an evolutionary biologist. If we can understand how life evolves here on Earth, we can then ask pertinent questions about how and why creatures on other planets might develop in a certain way. After all, Kershenbaum points out, the laws of physics are constant throughout the universe, so we can view Earth as an "evolutionary testing ground" for realistic solutions to life's problems.

Much of his book is organized around a series of chapters probing at different aspects of animal life on earth. Kershenbaum walks readers through chapters on movement, communication, intelligence, sociality, information, and language, describing why each of these tenets of life evolved, how they evolved, how they present or don't present in humans and other animals, and what we can take from our understanding to postulate what aliens might be like.

For example, in his chapter on sociality, he explores the costs and benefits of the development of complex societies on Earth, showing how cooperation forms when it's evolutionarily advantageous, and extrapolating a theory that as long as relatedness exists on alien planets, kin selection will drive at least some cooperation in those societies. In other words, if it works for us here, it'll likely work on alien planets. "Teatime with our alien neighbors may be possible after all," he tells us.

After all, says Kershenbaum, aliens might be telekinetic, or all-knowing, or little green men with big heads, but why? Some outcomes are simply not likely, like a hyper-intelligent alien floating through the universe and philosophizing for no reason. Others are quite likely: For example, if a neutrally buoyant alien must move through fluid, then it follows that that alien will evolve fins or some other means of stabilizing itself. Other possibilities raise intriguing questions, fit for a sociologist, about what life might be like in other worlds: For example, could a planet support two linguistic species without one enslaving the other?

Readers might raise an eyebrow at the premise of this book. After all, can we really use what we know about evolution on Earth to extrapolate to the vast unknowable universe? But Kershenbaum cleverly anticipates these potential criticisms. He acknowledges that people might disagree with his assumptions; all he asks is for readers to take away some conclusions about what alien life might be like, based on educated guesses.

Kershenbaum is also quick to second-guess himself or to present alternate conclusions to his theories. For example, some scientists believe that mathematical principles could act as a universal language for communication with alien species, but Kershenbaum also points out that mathematics might look different to aliens, or that aliens might analyze the world through other lenses besides mathematics.

He argues that humans evolved language to support our complex society and that languages on other planets would probably evolve for the same reason. He admits, however, that language could evolve for a reason incomprehensible to Earthlings.

In a later chapter, he even contradicts his main conceit that understanding evolution on Earth will allow us to understand other planets: What if we encountered a planet inhabited by designed artificial organisms, or robots, which could bypass natural selection?

Kershenbaum recognizes that scientists are not the only group that have spent centuries speculating about alien life. He has a healthy respect for the work of science fiction writers, too, and his book is peppered with pop culture references ranging from Guardians of the Galaxy to Arrival. He charmingly refers to Star Trek: Next Generation as the "Shakespeare of science fiction." His footnotes feature references to both the Bible and Richard Dawkins.

The book also includes photographs and drawings to accentuate his points, of creatures ranging from man o' war to ancient ammonites with delicate tendrils and shells.

560px-Portuguese_Man-O-War_Physalia_physalis.jpgThe Portuguese man o' war uses its gas-filled bladder to float at the surface of the sea/Courtesy of Islands in the Sea 2002, NOAA

These features, paired with Kershenbaum's friendly and undidactic tone, make his book readable and approachable.

Ultimately, his goal is to encourage readers to ask the right questions about alien life, even if we can't necessarily land on particular answers. Some of those questions include larger philosophical quandaries: Would aliens share the "human condition" with us, and what exactly is the human condition? What is an animal, what is an alien, what is personhood?

These questions are important, Kershenbaum argues, because of humanity's fraught history of grappling with those very issues regarding animals and other humans here at home. Perhaps, he says in his epilogue, while we wait to find aliens, we can ponder these big questions and apply the answers in new ways right here on Earth.

This post was originally published on Undark.

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Comments welcome.


Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 10:26 AM | Permalink

April 12, 2021

Not To Worry, White Sox Fans

Had we been told before the White Sox season began that after nine games the starting pitchers would have covered 47-plus innings with a 3.02 ERA, we'd have burst with optimism, assuming that the club had six or seven wins.

We knew that Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn were solid, whereas Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon needed to prove that they could fortify the end of the rotation. So the good news 12 days into the season is that those five hurlers, who have fanned 60 batters while walking just 19, compose one of the better starting staffs in either league.

Included in those numbers, of course, was the complete game masterpiece spun by Lynn last Thursday, blanking the Kansas City Royals 6-0 in the home opener at The Grate. Lynn walked no one while striking out 10 - only the ninth time in team history that a pitcher has recorded double digits in strikeouts without walking anyone in pitching a shutout. Hall of Famer Ed Walsh was the first to do it in 1910, and Giolito accomplished the feat in 2019 against the Twins.

This is all fine and dandy news. So what is the explanation that instead of racking up lots of wins in this young season, the ballclub has struggled to post a disappointing 4-5 record? The answers are not at all complicated.

For instance, left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer, the bullpen's setup man, declared during spring training that anytime the Sox had a lead after five innings, chalk one up for the good guys. It took just one game in the opening series against the Angels to ravage Bummer's declaration, when the Sox led 3-2 after five frames only to lose 4-3. It happened again in Seattle last Wednesday, when the fellas held a 4-1 lead in the top of the sixth only to see the Mariners score seven times in the bottom of the frame en route to an 8-4 victory.

Tragedy struck again on Sunday against the Royals following Adam Eaton's pinch hit two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, giving Tony La Russa's crew a 3-2 edge with $54 million closer Liam Hendricks entering the fray. Only problem was that Carlos Santana, who had been hitless in his previous 15 at-bats, deposited Hendricks' third pitch into the left centerfield seats to tie the game. The Royals won 4-3 in 10 innings, thanks to Garrett Crochet's throwing error, allowing the lead run to score.

Perhaps the White Sox had a closer all along in hard-throwing Michael Kopech, who's been no less than sensational so far in three appearances. Kopech relieved Cease in the fifth inning Sunday and covered 2⅓ innings on just 26 pitches, retiring all seven batters he faced. His repertoire includes far more than his 98-mph heater, making him just about unhittable. In 6⅓ innings, Kopech has allowed only one hit while walking two and fanning 11.

As outstanding as Kopech has been, patience is required for Hendricks and other relievers such as Matt Foster, the victim of Seattle's sixth-inning outburst on Wednesday. Foster relieved Keuchel with runners on first and second and no one out. Foster pitched to eight hitters, finally leaving after seven runners crossed the plate. La Russa accepted responsibility later for leaving Foster in the game long after he faced the required three hitters

This was so out of character for the White Sox skipper who, if he errs, usually miscalculates by lifting a pitcher too early rather than too late. Also, what were bench coach Miguel Cairo and pitching boss Ethan Katz thinking? One of them might have whispered in La Russa's ear, "Hey, Tony, this guy doesn't have it today. Better get him out of there." Of course, that never happened, or if it did, the skipper ignored the advice.

If we're seeking to soften the tribulations of the Sox bullpen a wee bit, take solace from the fact that the man Hendricks replaced, Alex Colomé, now toiling for the Twins, yielded a three-run ninth inning homer Sunday to Seattle's Kyle Seager, turning a Minnesota 6-5 lead into an 8-6 loss. The Twins led 6-0 in that game and now stand at just 5-4. So the Sox are not alone as far as punctured expectations are concerned.

And the South Siders still possess baseball's leading hitter in DH Yermin Mercedes, he of the .536 batting average to go along with an on-base mark of .594 after walking three times on Sunday.

Other positive developments include Eaton's almost-heroics on Sunday. The Sox right-fielder, the brunt of much consternation when the Sox signed him as a free agent last December, seems to have settled down in the field while clubbing a couple of homers and slashing .258/.361/.813. Some fans had a "been there-done that" attitude about Eaton, but the guy makes contact and can run the bases. Besides, he's already hit one more homer than Nomar Mazara, last season's right-field experiment, did in 2020.

The absence of Eloy Jiménez and Tim Anderson, who may return from the IL this week, has compromised the Sox attack, and with the exception of the Yerminator, no one has truly taken up the slack.

Yoan Moncada is receiving scrutiny after his weak season in 2020, when he suffered the effects of COVID-19. His lone hit of the shortened two-game series with Kansas City was a first inning two-run homer on Thursday, a stirring development to kick off the home season. The guy's hitting a paltry .161. However, after striking out in 11 of his first 23 plate appearances, Moncada has fanned just once since then in his last 14 trips to the plate. That's a sign that he's coming out of his doldrums.

Centerfielder Luis Robert also is making better contact this season after striking out last year in about a third of his plate appearances. Now it's about one-in-four. In addition, when he does make contact, Robert's average exit velocity is 92.6, tops on the team. Some of those missiles that have been hit right at defenders are going to start going into the gaps as things even out, and Robert will be hitting above his present mark of .250.

Four games at The Grate against Cleveland are on tap beginning Monday evening. Cleveland has won five of their first eight games, thanks primarily to a pitching staff that has an ERA of 2.83, third best in MLB. Opponents are hitting just .169 against Cleveland moundsmen. Currently, Cleveland occupies the top spot in the American League Central.

One category in which the Sox likely lead the league is the 90 percent of their traveling entourage - players and staff - who have been vaccinated (with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson). According to the team's website, vaccinations were delivered right to the team's clubhouse. My question is, what happened to the 10 percent who either were absent or rejected the vaccine?

That seems more puzzling than Yoan Moncada's slump or La Russa failing to rescue Matt Foster in Seattle.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 11:13 AM | Permalink

April 9, 2021

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #351: Vaccine Villains

Jock idiocy in the city's locker rooms. Plus: SOS - Same Old Scrubs; Tony & Stoney; DePaul's Stumblefield; Bulls Rebound; Bowman's Borgstrom; McCaskey Mystery; Goofy Georgi; Red Stars Return, and more!

Beachwood Radio Network · The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #351: Vaccine Villains

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SHOW NOTES

* 351.

:52: SOS: Same Old Scrubs.

+

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* Wittenmyer on Kimbrel: "His slider danced and dipped. His fastball touched 98 mph. And the hitters didn't touch much of any of it as Kimbrel struck out two Pirates to get out of the bases-loaded jam he inherited, then added a 1-2-3 ninth for his 350th career save. It was the first five-out save of his career, if not the hottest, highest-leverage, regular-season save of his career."

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18:19: Tony & Stoney.

Plus:

* Wallenstein: The Yerminator Has Landed.

* Rosenthal: Yermin Mercedes' Long Road To The Majors.

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31:36: Vaccine Villains.

Thread.

* The NFL's COVID Warning For Baseball.

* Private Choices Have Public Consequences.

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42:03: DePaul's Stumblefield.

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52:33: Bulls Rebound.

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54:42 Bowman's Borgstrom.

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58:46: McCaskey Mystery.

* Lone vote against 17-game schedule.

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1:00:46: Goofy Georgi.

Ryan, Tribune: "Bezhanishvili is the third Illinois player since the season ended with a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to announce he is not returning.

"Freshman guard Adam Miller, from Morgan Park, announced he entered the transfer portal. As expected earlier this week, junior guard Ayo Dosunmu announced he would forgo his college eligibility to enter the NBA draft.

"Cockburn has not made an announcement about his future, but the 7-footer declared for the draft last season before withdrawing to return to Illinois."

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1:02:40: Red Stars Return.

* Geary, SI: "Rory Dames brought in Mal Pugh to score goals, and if she (injury status pending) and players like Kealia Watt and Katie Johnson can do it consistently, the Red Stars absolutely will be a legitimate contender. If not? It could be a frustrating season in Chicago, though this roster should easily make the playoffs. It has the depth to survive, if not thrive, in the Olympic window, and it should once again field one of the league's best defenses."

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STOPPAGE: 5:38

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For archives and other Beachwood shows, see The Beachwood Radio Network.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:19 PM | Permalink

April 8, 2021

The Quest For Papa's Perfect Sentence

When I was 15 and thought myself a smart young man of letters, I read The Sun Also Rises. I knew then I would read everything that Ernest Hemingway wrote because you could not be serious and avoid him.

It was 1961. The summer when he died.

But then I decided I could avoid him.

No, I decided I had to put him aside. It was bittersweet, though likely the first adult decision of my life.

Those times and decisions came back to me this week during the six-hour PBS biographical special Hemingway.

If watching those 360 minutes does not illuminate both the hope and terrible fear of imitating Hemingway, nothing will.

He was a temptation, both for his talent and his persona. He was great. He was terrible. Any young American male could be lured to believing he could be Hemingway. I felt the tug of his gravity and raging passions.

For an autumn and winter after I read Sun, all my classroom paragraphs were unintended copies of Hemingway. When I realized what I had been doing unconsciously, I shuddered.

It was embarrassing, and even more embarrassing because no one recognized it except for me.

Though the imitation was not deliberate, I took no solace. I knew it to be real. I could write better sentences as a fake Hemingway than I could write as the real me. That revelation was fearsome.

What if that was all I was or could be? A fake stealing someone else's heart.

But even thinking of being a plausible fake Hemingway was the silliness of being 15. It did not take long for me to see that silliness. And laugh at it. It was only arrogance.

Hemingway was a true, devilish temptation then and remained one for many years. What he did with words and ideas seemed so effortless and direct that anyone with intelligence might follow him. He was real.

Mimics want what others have, and covet that for themselves.

It is theft. There is no achievement in mimicry, which is the worst form of imitation. There is no good in flattery.

I was too easily drawn to be one of those mimics. I feared that I would let his rhythm and expressions take hold of me. They would be too powerful for me to resist. And then I would never be myself. Or even recognize what being myself was.

There is no joy in a thin, fake reflection in the mirror. That scared me more than being a failure.

So I put Hemingway aside for many years.

Only now in the past decade or so do I feel comfortable enough immersing myself in his words.

I came to see that I could not be Hemingway. His passion and pain. His confrontation with fear. His terrible failures and even more consuming ego. But he was addictive for me. Or at least the idea of Hemingway's grandness.

Was leaving "Papa" a wise decision? I think so.

But I am now myself, and do not believe I will try to write Hemingway's perfect sentence. At least I am not trying to seek his perfection. Only my own.

The quest for that perfection was a Hemingway touchstone. As he had once written: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say."

Someday I might write that sentence. I will recognize those words when they happen. It will be a fine day. That's a transaction we all must make with ourselves if we are serious as writers. Or aspiring to be serious. Maybe I am serious only about being serious.

One day, if I become good enough, I might write the perfect sentence. And then more of them. It is a true ambition. It is a satisfaction that seems worthy of my hopes as a writer.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was Thank Trump For Your Stimulus Check. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:43 PM | Permalink

April 7, 2021

The NFL's COVID Warning For Baseball

Baseball season is here, and thousands of cheering fans are back in the ballparks after a year of empty seats.

Most teams, still cautious of the COVID-19 risk, are keeping their stadiums to less than 30% capacity for now.

Only the Texas Rangers packed the ballpark for its home opener on April 5, 2021, a move President Joe Biden criticized as not being responsible.

Many of these attendance decisions are being made with minimal data about the heightened risk that players and fans face of getting COVID-19 at stadiums or arenas and spreading it the community.

There is one large-scale experiment that can offer some insight: the National Football League's 2020 season.

The NFL played 269 games in 30 cities, some with thousands of fans on hand, others with none. To help everyone understand the risks, we and other colleagues who study large-scale risks to professional sports crunched the numbers. What we found can help teams and fans decide how best to enjoy their favorite games.

How Many Fans Is Too Many Fans?

Twenty of the 32 NFL franchises allowed fans in their stadiums during games. A few of those games had upwards of 20,000 people.

The NFL's decision to allow fans at games enabled us to examine the potential influence that large sports events can have on local viral transmission. Although we could not definitively assess cause and effect, the results were striking.

We found that in counties where teams had 20,000 fans or more at games, there were more than twice as many COVID-19 cases in the three weeks after games compared to counties with other teams. The case rate per 100,000 residents was also twice as high. Neighboring counties also experienced higher case counts and rates in the three weeks following games with lots of fans in the seats.

By comparing COVID-19 case data and game attendance data reported by ESPN, we found patterns that carried across the 30 football communities. The study has been submitted to the medical journal The Lancet for peer review and was released April 2 in preprint format.

We found very little evidence of COVID-19 spikes associated with fan-attended games in the first seven days after games, which wasn't surprising given the incubation period of the virus. However, the two-week and three-week windows after games were markedly different, with a significantly greater rate of spikes in COVID-19 cases being identified in communities that had fans at games compared to those that did not.

When stadiums had fewer than 5,000 fans in the stands, we didn't see elevated case numbers like we did in those that permitted more than 20,000 fans.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, host of the Super Bowl, was one of the teams that permitted the maximum number of fans. The spikes observed in Hillsborough County, Florida, after home games were quite pronounced. Roughly 18 to 21 days after nearly every home Bucs game with fans in attendance, there was a spike in cases. This repeated pattern of spikes in COVID-19 case rates reflects the time between exposure and the illness developing, being tested and reported.

Screen Shot 2021-04-07 at 10.46.09 AM.png

A similar pattern appeared across nearly every team that allowed over 5,000 fans in the stadium this past NFL season.

Being Outdoors Doesn't Make You Safe

While COVID-19 vaccinations are ramping up nationwide, much of the public is still vulnerable to this lethal disease. As of April 5, only about 19% of the U.S. population had been fully vaccinated. How many people may have natural immunity from having gotten the virus and how long immunity will last isn't known.

Being outdoors does lower the risk compared to being in a room, but when infected people are shouting or cheering, they can spread the virus farther.

Major League Baseball is encouraging precautions this season, including recommending fans and players wear masks while they aren't on the field and practice social distancing. But it will be up to each team to decide how tightly packed their fans can be.

The Takeaway For Games And Large Gatherings

The 2020 NFL season carries important lessons about mass gatherings during infectious disease outbreaks.

The research suggests using a phased approach, with the number of fans attending sports and entertainment events slowly increasing only after officials have evaluated the COVID-19 case spread in the local and surrounding communities. Such an approach may be necessary until enough people are vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus. Even then, sports teams and event planners should still monitor public health data for future risks.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has dropped significantly since its peak after the Thanksgiving and winter holidays, but the risk isn't gone. The daily case count is still higher than last September, and the U.S. is also seeing a rise in coronavirus variants that spread more easily than the initial virus.

Fans and sports and other event planners will need to take all of that into account as they make decisions about upcoming seasons, concerts and the Summer Olympics. That includes a boxing match expected to be attended by more than 60,000 spectators in Dallas over Cinco De Mayo weekend.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already said he expects full stadiums when football season starts again in the fall.

Alex R. Piquero is the chair of the Department of Sociology and Arts at the University of Miami. Justin Kurland is the research director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi. Wanda Leal of Texas A&M San Antonio, Erin Sorrell of Georgetown University, and Nicole Leeper Piquero of the University of Miami contributed to this post, which is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments welcome.


Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 6:36 AM | Permalink

April 5, 2021

The Yerminator Has Landed

Five years, 10 years, 25 years from now, few will remember the botched fly balls and blown leads, but the legend of Yermin Mercedes will remain alive.

Chances are, even a century into the future, his eight hits in as many at-bats to kick off the season will remain as the hottest streak ever for a ballplayer's first two games of a new campaign. The Yerminator has landed.

However, the journey has not always been smooth for the 28-year-old Dominican. Signed 10 years ago by the Washington Nationals, the barrel-chested catcher was a man without a team just 2½ years later. The Nats apparently weren't appropriately impressed with Mercedes' three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .296 with an on-base mark of .373.

The White Sox' newest darling was undaunted. Still in the infancy of his career, he hooked on with three different clubs in the independent Pecos League during the 2014 season. We all can be forgiven if we've never heard of the Pecos League, but it sure sounds like a lot of fun. Most of the clubs seven years ago were located in scenic New Mexico in little ballparks in places like Raton, Taos and Santa Fe.

Mercedes landed in White Sands, home of the Pupfish, a species that Wikipedia reports are found in "extreme and isolated situations," which is pretty much where Yermin found himself. In 37 games he hit .417 with 15 homers and 56 RBIs. Even in the hinterlands of New Mexico, you raise a few eyebrows with those kind of numbers when you're just 21 with a drive to be a professional ballplayer.

The Orioles inked the kid to a contract, and Mercedes rose to Double-A in the Baltimore chain before the Sox nabbed him as a Rule 5 draft pick prior to the 2018 season. Playing between Birmingham and Charlotte in 2019, the newly-minted Yerminator slashed .317/.388/.968 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs, earning a spot on the Sox's taxi squad for last season's COVID-compromised saga. He appeared in one game, pinch-hitting on Aug. 2 in a 9-2 blowout of the Royals, grounding to second in his first major league at-bat.

A strong showing in spring training this year earned him a spot with the big team as it headed to Anaheim for the season's opening series. If there is a Poster Boy for a baseball lifer, I nominate Yermin Mercedes.

After watching his club drop the opener last Thursday to the Angels, the excitement began on Friday as Mercedes, batting eighth as the DH, singled in his first at-bat. Standing at first base, Albert Pujols joyfully tossed the ball to Mercedes for posterity. Had Pujols known what was to follow, he might not have been as accommodating. Four hits followed in the Sox's 12-8 victory, the lone triumph of the weekend.

The pundits got busy investigating all the instances of guys going 5-for-5 in just the second game of their careers.

The last player to match Mercedes' feat on Friday was Jack Dalton of the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing in his career's second game against the New York Giants on June 21, 1921. Dalton contributed five singles in that contest. Dalton hit .314 that season, his first of four at the major league level.

So it only took 100 years for someone to match Dalton's productivity.

Of course, Mercedes was far from finished. His first home run of the season followed by a single and double, accounting for a couple of RBIs, went into the books for the Yerminator's first three at-bats on Saturday, giving him those eight consecutive base knocks to start his season. Mercedes can go hitless in his next 16 at-bats and still be hitting .300.

Not only were Mercedes' teammates amazed by his performance, but the Angels chipped in with their own congratulatory gestures. Prior to Sunday's game, a 7-4 walkoff Angels victory on the strength of Jared Walsh's three-run shot off Matt Foster, Mercedes posed for a photo flanked by Pujols and the incomparable Mike Trout.

Per the Sox website, Mercedes disclosed that Angel shortstop José Iglesias extended his personal plaudits during the game as Mercedes stood on second base.

Can you imagine a defensive lineman or cornerback going up to Tom Brady during a game and extending congratulations for yet another Brady TD pass? Or a hockey goalie extending his admiration to Patrick Kane after the Blackhawks superstar flicked the puck past him yet again? Baseball clearly is a different animal.

Of course, Mercedes can't keep up this torrid pace, but his approach indicates that this guy has the potential to be an above average major league hitter. Depending on the situation over the weekend, he either used a leg kick or kept his front foot planted. With two strikes, he seeks contact, a rare trait in this home run-driven age. His mechanics seem to change to fit the count and whether runners are on base.

In addition, we may see more of Mercedes behind the plate to spell Yasmani Grandal. In 2019 between Birmingham and Charlotte, Mercedes threw out 27 of 62 would-be base-stealers, a 44 percent rate. Grandal's average is 27 percent over a 10-year big league career.

Zack Collins got the catching assignment on Saturday. Shohei Ohtani stole second, getting a big jump on Lance Lynn, but Collins generally gave a decent account of himself. He also had a hit and reached on a walk. In eight at-bats in this young season, Collins has fanned just one time.

Since Collins bats from the left side, Mercedes from the right, and Grandal from both, the Sox catching core appears strong. Any of the three also can handle the DH duties, which might indicate that rookie Andrew Vaughn could be headed to Schaumburg's alternate training site and then to Charlotte when its season begins on May 4. Wherever he lands in the next few weeks, Vaughn will have a role in the Sox's long-term future.

Talking about future, the Sox won't see the Angels again until three mid-week games in Chicago in September. We'll be over the Shotei Ohtani hype by then, which was highlighted in Sunday's nationally televised game as Ohtani pitched into the fifth inning while batting second and hitting the first pitch he saw from Dylan Cease 450 feet into the right centerfield bleachers.

Announcers Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez were simply gaga over Ohtani, and the first inning homer put them right over the edge, so much so that Vasgersian's first question during an in-game interview with Lucas Giolito focused on Ohtani.

Lucas seemed puzzled by the inquiry and gave sort of a "Yeah, he's pretty good" response. But for crying out loud, the Sox were engaged in a contest to beat the guy, not to drool over him. Besides, Giolito is every bit the pitcher Ohtani is, and then some.

Make no mistake. Ohtani is a gifted athlete and a unique ballplayer. However, Vasgersian's questions should have been aimed at the home team's dugout rather than at Giolito.

The club headed north to Seattle after Sunday's game where they'll meet the young Mariners three times before opening the home season Thursday against the much-improved Royals. Chances are we'll see more of the Yerminator, either in the DH spot - please, Tony, don't try him in left field - or at catcher. He'll be worth watching as well as the rest of the ballclub to make sure that the follies of flubbed pop flys, late-inning bullpen woes, and lack of situational hitting were simply aberrations in Anaheim.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:57 PM | Permalink

April 3, 2021

Fixing Sexist Playlists

These days, more and more people listen to music on streaming apps - in early 2020, 400 million people were subscribed to one. These platforms use algorithms to recommend music based on listening habits. The recommended songs might feature in new playlists or they might start to play automatically when another playlist has ended.

But what the algorithms recommend is not always fair. In a new study, we showed a widely used recommendation algorithm is more likely to pick music by male than female artists. In response, we've come up with a simple way to give more exposure to female artists.

The representation of women and gender minorities in the music industry is tremendously low. About 23% of artists in the 2019 Billboard 100 were women or gender minorities. Women represent 20% or less of registered composers and songwriters, while 98% of works performed by major orchestras are by male composers.

This bias is also present in streaming services. A few female "superstars" dominate among the most popular artists, but most female and mixed-gender artists are in the lower levels of popularity. While the problem stems from beyond the music industry, online music platforms and their algorithms that recommend music - called recommenders - play a large role.

Our Study

While previous studies have repeatedly asked consumers for their opinion, the music artists, those providing the content, are rarely in the loop.

We wanted to put the spotlight on artists. We asked musicians to give us their views on what would make online music platforms more fair. When they said gender imbalance was a major problem, we decided to study this in more detail.

Our analysis of around 330,000 users' listening behavior over nine years showed a clear picture - only 25% of the artists ever listened to were female. When we tested the algorithm we found, on average, the first recommended track was by a man, along with the next six. Users had to wait until song seven or eight to hear one by a woman.

Screen Shot 2021-04-03 at 2.12.56 PM.pngTY Lim, Shutterstock

Breaking The Loop

As users listen to the recommended songs, the algorithm learns from these. This creates a feedback loop.

To break this feedback loop, we came up with a simple approach to gradually give more exposure to female artists. We took the recommendations computed by the basic algorithm and re-ranked them - moving male artists a specified number of positions downwards.

In a simulation, we studied how our re-ranked recommendations could affect users' listening behavior in the longer term. With the help of our re-ranked algorithm, users would start changing their behavior. They would listen to more female artists than before.

Eventually, the recommender started to learn from this change in behavior. It began to place females higher up in the recommended list, even before our re-ranking. In other words, we broke the feedback loop.

This shows how easy it can be. Our simple method can help address the biases in the algorithms that play a large role in the way many people discover new music and artists. Next, we hope to study how real consumers perceive the changes introduced by the re-ranking strategy and how it impacts their listening behavior in the long term.

Another crucial step would be to collect and use data about the wide scale of gender identities. We're aware this binary gender classification does not reflect the multitude of gender identities. The unavailability of data beyond the gender binary is a massive obstacle, both for research as well as for taking action and making progress on a societal level.

So far, our simulation could demonstrate the benefits of a simple re-ranking approach. But responsibility is, of course, not with the platform providers alone. Initiatives such as Keychange and Women in Music are working to represent the underrepresented in the music industry. The rest of us need to follow.

As music festivals are being criticized for the lack of women in their lineups, any step towards representing more women all genders in a more balanced manner is a step in the right direction.

Christine Bauer is an assistant professor of Human Centered Computing at Utrecht University. Andrés Ferraro is a PhD candidate in Information and Communication Technologies at Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

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This post is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments welcome.


Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 1:00 AM | Permalink

We Have Questions

This started with a discussion of the physics of Fantasy Island. As many others have wondered, is Roarke a grifter, a deity, a techno-wizard? That led to this.

TIM: If the fantasies only lasted for the duration of the trip to the island, why didn't Mr. Roarke make Tattoo taller? He never left the island, right?

STEVE: This is like, "When the Blues Brothers went to the diner to get that guy for the band, why didn't they take Aretha instead?"

TIM: Yes! I can't remember the comic who said: Remember that movie where Halle Berry was so poor that she had to become a prostitute? Why didn't she just become a model?

STEVE: Why don't they make the entire plane out of the black box?

TIM: Steven Wright: Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?

STEVE: Gilligan's Island: They can make a radio out of a coconut but can't fix a hole in a boat?

TIM: Why didn't they make the boat out of a black box?

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:18 AM | Permalink

April 2, 2021

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #350: Opening Deja Vu

Meet the new Cubs, same as the old Cubs. Plus: White Sox Lose Less Than Cubs; Neo Theo; Boog & Beau; Loyola Will Always Have Illinois; Deja Vucevic; and Bloom Also Off Blackhawks.

Beachwood Radio Network · The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #350: Opening Deja Vu

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SHOW NOTES

* 350.

1:10: Accidental Bears QB Segment.

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2:55: Meet The New Cubs, Same As The Old Cubs.

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23:55: Neo Theo.

* MLB Experimenting With Bigger Bases At Triple-A.

* MLB Cracks Down On Pitchers Using Foreign Substances On Balls.

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30:22: White Sox Lose Less Than Cubs.

* Cubs loss resonated while White Sox Loss not representative of anything we should worry about.

* Kenny Williams talks sense.

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39:08: Boog & Beau.

* New announcer combos, new announcer reads.

* You can't beat the House; the games are designed for you to lose.

* From Candy To Cannabis.

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51:30: Loyola Will Always Have Illinois.

* And the Big Ten will always have the Pac-12.

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57:55: Deja Vucevic.

* Bulls still suck.

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1:00:28: Bloom Also Off Blackhawks.

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STOPPAGE: 5:25

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For archives and other Beachwood shows, see The Beachwood Radio Network.

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Comments welcome.

Posted by Beachwood Reporter at 12:18 PM | Permalink

MUSIC - Fixing Sexist Playlists.
TV - BMW Is The Answer.
POLITICS - The Fed Is Making The Rich Richer.
SPORTS - He Gets On Base.

BOOKS - Company C, Illinois 96th.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Dinosaur Drive-Thru!


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