Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Series of 2012 and Public Bonehead of 1908

You may have seen stories recently in the sports news on the Giants—Tigers 2012 World Series that refer to the famous Merkle game of 1908. The stories point out that the 2012 Series is the first time the Giants and Tigers have met in the fall classic, but back in 1908, they came pretty close to meeting. In 1908, the New York Giants lost the Pennant to the Chicago Cubs in a special tie-breaker game. The sports stories disclose that the tie-breaker would not have been necessary, had Fred Merkle run the bases properly in a key game on September 23rd.

The Merkle game is one of the most publicized events in sports history and it has as much relevance today as it did back in 1908 when it occurred. The “Merkle Game” was not only a remarkable baseball event in a most remarkable baseball year, but to history buffs it serves as a center point from which we can understand flesh-and-blood Progressive Era America. But, even beyond that, the Merkle Game provides a lesson in bullying for those of all ages. Oddly enough it’s often adults who need more education on the issue of bullying than children and we believe the story of Fred Merkle, Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball’s Fred Merkle can help do that for many.

In Public Bonehead, Private Hero, we have a wonderful adult sports/history book that examines the circumstances and the life of the most maligned and bullied sports figure of all time, Fred Merkle. Mike Cameron's book is thoroughly entertaining, historical and engaging. Merkle played in the era where newspapers were at their most powerful; America was flexing its muscles, Ford was making a car for everyone; and the Wright brothers were proving the potential of air travel.

In the midst of a hotly contested pennant race, NY Giants’ Fred Merkle walked off the base path after the apparent end of a game. He was following the practice of the day, but was ruled out on a technicality. The Giants cried foul, but the press focused its muckraking venom on Merkle, calling him “bonehead.” Public Bonehead, Private Hero reveals how the press never tired of recounting the “bonehead episode” and seeing Merkle relive the ignominy.

Author Mike Cameron discloses that the real Merkle was a sensitive intelligent man who went on with his life to become a great role model for today. Public Bonehead, Private Hero is an excellent sports book that is crisply written and provides a bit of American history on the side. It’s also a book that reminds readers how painful it can be for the victim and family when they are on the receiving end of ridicule especially when it goes on and on.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle and other fine sports books. To order.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Another Thought on the Great Gatsby

There used to a popular TV show that featured a young single Mom and her involvement with a secret agent and the agency (CIA I assume). It was called the Scarecrow and Mrs. King. I liked this show in part because I liked Kate Jackson who played the Mom and Bruce Boxleitner who played Lee Stetson, the "Scarecrow." I also liked Billy Melrose, the boss, who was played by Mel Stuart. The show was of course unbelievably unbelievable, pure escape.

I was bothered by one small item in the show. In TV, sometimes a point must be gotten across in a fast and cheap way and there are ways that this is done. The show kept trying to suggest that Lee Stetson was a suave kind of Jame Bond guy. As a fan of the show, I just don't think they ever made that work. I suppose women certainly thought he was attractive. He was certainly muscular and in good shape, but suave just never seemed to stick to Stetson. Boxleiter was more of a John Wayne kind of actor than a Sean Connery type. Personally, I thought Boxleitner was magnificent along James Arness in the TV series "How the West was Won."

The Scarecrow and Mrs. King TV show attempted to convince the audience that Stetson was suave by visual evidence. They kept putting him in tuxedos. That's how TV sometimes works with character development. Books on the other hand are expected to work a little harder at such things.

More than anything else in a novel, I like a good story. But even the best authors often do not illustrate character traits through action. They may use narrative explanation or other characters' "projections."

In the Great Gatsby, the secret of just who is Jay Gatsby is central to the story and keeps the reader interested. I suppose somethings are revealed in time, but the actual stabs at character development in the book are some of the more interesting aspects of it and perhaps some of Fitzgerald's best writing.

The character of Nick Carroway serves as the narrator and he is an astute judge of character in many ways. He states right up front that his father told him that before he criticizes anyone, he should remember that "all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." But Nick is sometimes judgmental in his narration to others in the book.

Nick gives us his impression of Gatsby's smile a short time after their first meeting. I think it is a wonderful piece of writing. Nick does not let it rest after he says some positive things about Gatsby, but I did think these particular lines that Fitzgerald hung onto the mysterious Gatsby provide a means of understanding what it would have been like to have been around the mystery man.

Nick's response to Gatsby's smile:
...It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced-or seemed to face-the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

Although Carraway sense of wonder at Gatsby smile instantly evaporates, in this short section, we feel what it was like to meet Gatsby first hand and it serves as beautiful means of character development without Gatsby doing anything more than smile.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ebooks to Eden

I do not believe reading books has ever been very popular. When you consider the number of people in the United States and the statistics that are issued on book reading, it's pretty pathetic. The statistics from different sources do not appear to be very consistent other than most sources seem to show that about 25% of the population does not read a single book a year. It looks to me like about half the population reads less than a book a month and the other folks read more than a book a month. I know when I talk to people about reading books many of them say they skimmed through this or quickly read through that. I think when you ask people how many books they have read, they are not going to be very honest about it.

I've written before that I thought ebooks were OK, but they are after all, well "electronic." And sooner or later, everything electronic gets more complicated and offers more features--they get suped-up. Once you start to promote suped-up books to the public, the ebook will morph into something completely different. Today's ebooks will look like pong games. Children's publishers are creating a much more interactive and exciting experience for kids with ebook-like products and it will only be a matter of time before such products reduce today's plain-Jane ebook market to mush. But the problem that occurs is that once the electronic viewing and information device (my name) and whatever it is that substitutes for books starts to drive the market further and further away from actual words on a page, the actual words become less important--not that words become trivial in all cases, just less important.

We already have works that have for the most part evolved from the book--they are called movies, plays and television. Although no one can argue, for example, that Shakespeare's words in his plays are not central to the experience, in most plays the language is at least in part lost in the movement, action, staging, and other visual elements. Great books often include narration that movie makers frequently cut and a few seconds of film often replaces a page of beautiful prose. I think it's fair to say that ebooks will morph into a kind of eye-candy-coated miniature movie--perhaps with lots of interactions and other things we haven't even imaged. However, the ebook will be so far removed from a book, marketers will stop calling them ebooks altogether. (Won't they soon be calling those little thin wafers so prevalent today something other than phones?)But for now, ebooks are riding the coattails of centuries of book-making and book-writing.

I am not suggesting that plays, TV and movies cannot be wonderful experiences in themselves, I am just saying that when we lose the written word found in books, it will be a great loss. On a positive note, when future polls set out to find out how many "books" Americans "read" in a year, if the experience becomes as passive and brainless as watching a bad TV show, that 25% of former non-readers may rack up as many "books" as everyone else.

Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press

Great Gatsby Alert: You Saw It Here

Right next to my bed I have a pile of books that I have been working through. Just recently, I pulled out my copy of the Great Gatsby and put it in the pile. I wanted to reread the part of the book that describes the bespectacled eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg that are on a sign in the midst of kind of dead man’s land of ashes that the characters pass through between more attractive destinations. I think way back when we read the book for school, someone had said something profound about the sign and its meaning in the story.

One of the characters in the book is Tom Buchanan a former college football star whom Fitzgerald tells us is one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax.

A couple days ago, I came across a web site that allows teachers to post some ancillary materials to sell to other teachers. I wondered if Gatsby is even assigned these days. I don't recall any of my kids reading it in high school English. It turns out there were many Gatsby ancillaries, so apparently F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book is alive and well in many schools. In fact, interest in Gatsby may just explode next year as yet another Gatsby movie is coming out in May 2013. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Gatsby and Toby McGuire plays Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator and main character. I checked on WorldCat and there are well over 5,000 libraries that have the Great Gatsby book. There are roughly 1000 foreign libraries that carry it.

Having worked in a bookstore for several years, I know when book is made into a movie, there is often a new edition issue with a new cover featuring the movie images and new price tag as well. Librarian who like to plan ahead for displays may schedule work on a Gatsby display--perhaps featuring a roaring 20s kind of theme with flappers, long luxurious automobiles and other images of the era. If the movie does well it is likely to rekindle an interest in the book. Of course, if the movie bombs, that’s a whole other story. Library patrons might be more interested in Goofey than Gatsby.
Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

10 Commandments of Trick or Treating: Kids Guide to Halloween

Sporting Chance Press publishes The 10 Commandments of Baseball, which inspired us to produce the Halloween Trick or Treat guidelines that are listed below. This is not a complete list and it does not include the serious stuff like don't eat any candy that looks weird or is unwrapped or don't go to the strange houses. This list is strictly for fun, but offers some good ideas none the less. Here are our 10 Commandments of Trick or Treating.

1. Nobody becomes a Trick of Treat legend by slowly walking from house to house. You've got to hustle--nothing dangerous or stupid mind you. Make sure your costume does not inhibit your vision or movements--and don't go jumping over any iron fences with pointy things.
2. You will never get a lot of candy unless you put some effort into it. Call out "trick or treat" loudly and proudly. Don't be one of those "I'm too good to say trick or treat" or "thank you" kind of kids. Make the master or mistress of the house want to give you the candy.
3. Don't soap windows and egg houses. If you come to a house where the people don't give candy or they left a bowl of candy on their front doorstep and the earlier kids emptied it out, don't waste any time soaping up the windows or knocking their pumpkins over, etc. What's over is over, move on.
4. Make sure you look good at all times--take pride in your Halloween appearance. Don't be one of those kids who wear their regular clothes and put on a monster mask and then tip it up to the top of their heads like sunglasses so no one even knows what you are supposed to be. Life requires creativity and effort.
5. Decide on the course you are going to follow and stick with it. Be decisive. Don't go down a few houses on one block and then skip over to the next--willy-nilly criss-crossing the street. Make sure your parents know where you are going.
6. Don't make excuses about your costume or how little candy you end up with in your bag. Achieve good results by great effort. Resist eating mounds of candy while you are still raking it in.
8. Don't shout "Trick or Treat" once and then give up. Give each house you visit your best shot at finding someone home. Shout a couple times. Some kids sound the words out to make the words longer: tri-i-i-i-ick or tre-ee-ee-eet. Now that's hard to ignore.
9. Don't criticize the master or mistress of the house based on the candy you get. Don't be one of those kids who say stuff like, "Oh, I don't like Bit-o-honey" or "Sugar Babies stick to my teeth." No matter what the brand, take it and express gratitude. Remember, you don't have to eat everything you get. Maybe your parents like the stuff that you don't!
10. Maintain control at all times. Work fast, hang with good friends who behave themselves and get home when you are supposed to get home. It's a lot more fun that way and it just isn't cool to scare your parents on Halloween by being late.
Copyright 2011 Sporting Chance Press.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of J.D. Thorne's The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) and other fine sports books. The 10 Commandments of Baseball is a treasure of sports lessons for all ages. The 10 Commandments of Baseball is an enjoyable mix of professional baseball stories and the author's affectionate retelling of his own amateur baseball experiences. Whether male or female, young or old, the reader is pulled into great baseball moments that make the baseball commandments come to life with compassion and humor. The focal point of the book is the classic, but little-known, 10 Commandments of Baseball, the baseball principles created by Major League baseball's most successful manager, Joe McCarthy. To Order.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cutler and Romo Walk Fine Line in the Media

Jay Cutler expressed his frustration in the Chicago Bears early-season loss to the Green Bay Packers when he gave a "shout out" and bump to left offensive tackle J'Markus Webb. Webb had the unenviable job of blocking the Packers' Clay Matthews who was credited with two and a half sacks. Two weeks later, in Monday night's impressive Bears win in Dallas, Cutler was noticeable miffed and disrespectful to Bears Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice. Cutler was clearly getting some coaching as Tice sat next to him on the sidelines after a failed third-and-short play when Cutler jumped up out of his seat ignoring Tice in front of national television. Both Tice and Cutler have stated that there is no rift--it was not a big deal. Tice suggests that he had already belabored a point to Cutler. Cutler called it a non-issue all the way around. Of course, we sit in front of our TV sets assuming that Cutler knows how bad this looks on TV, but it must seem a lot different on the sidelines during the contest.

Without having any inside information, it seems that Cutler gets frustrated with the pace of Tice's play-calling. Choosing the best play for each and every down can be a daunting job these days especially when a coach must concern himself with not only the success of the play, but the endless expert analysis and game postmortems that follow each loss.

Cutler, of course, is under great pressure and scrutiny himself. Quarterbacks are measured with a rating system as well as the final score. They also are credited with an incomplete pass when a receiver misses the ball regardless of the accuracy of the throw. For Cutler, the attention routinely goes beyond his performance. He's been criticized for being stoic in defeat one week only to be criticized for being over-the-top emotionally the next.

If the Bears miffs and muffs seemed to have gotten some attention here in Chicago, the talk in Dallas must be wildly animated in comparison. It would seem to me that the one person saddled with the heaviest burden was Cowboys quarterback, Tony Romo. Rarely will a quarterback play well when his receivers drop catch-able balls and mess up on their routes. Yet, much criticism seems to fall on the "inconsistent Tony Romo." I think there are a lot of NFL teams who would love to have the Cowboys "inconsistent" quarterback. The Bears were only leading Dallas 10-7 at half--not exactly a blow-out. I think if the Cowboys receivers would have played better, the game would have been a lot tighter rather than a 34-18 blowout.

Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press, Inc.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout is a personal chronicle of Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey that looks back at decades of spiritual enrichment and life lessons from athletes, coaches, religious and everyday people. McCaskey recalls the stories of those who strived to make the cut on and off the field—plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways. Order online.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wilson Footballs and the NFL

I recently saw an official NFL football that had been used in a game and was given to the parents of a serviceman who had died in the line of duty. It was given to the officer's mom and dad by a Bears player and it was obviously something they treasured very very dearly. There was a question that the mom had concerning some numbering on the ball and I wrote Wilson to figure it out and they were kind enough to provide an answer.

I suppose for some people, the mere mention of markings on a football may seem a trivial topic in the face of tragedy. Yet, sports often invokes powerful feelings and profound meaning for fans. In sports, there is often relief to those who are suffering and inspiration for those who are feeling unimportant. For many others it just takes them away from the cares of everyday world.

I can remember my dad at a stage in his life when he was battling disease, sitting in front of the TV set during a heavyweight boxing bout moving his shoulders back and forth unconsciously mimicking the moves of one of the fighters. During football games you might see him thrust forward in his chair to add strength to a quarterback sneak on third and one. At one time he had been an athlete himself and he could somehow relive it watching sports on TV. I have come to understand that even things that might seem trivial can connect us with those things we deem most important in life. So here is a trivial posting about footballs that I hope will mean something more to some of its readers.

Wilson Football Facts

The official football of the NFL since 1941 is the Wilson football and for any sports lover who has seen one, it is a thing of beauty. Each NFL team receives 108 game footballs a week. Half are used for practice and half are used during the weekly gridiron contest itself. Special balls used by kickers are marked with a "K." These balls are delivered separately to the officials' hotel room about two and a half hours prior to kickoff to avoid any player "doctoring." Special precautions are taken to prevent tampering with the game balls as well.

Balls are handcrafted and marked with the date of their making using a number scheme that follows the letters "WK." The numbers indicate the month and year the ball was made. Wilson footballs are made at a special football factory in Ada, Ohio that employs about 120 people who make 700,000 footballs a year for the NFL, the NCAA, many high school associations, American Youth Football and others. These workers are special people who develop exceptional strength in their hands, arms, fingers and wrists depending upon their part of the operation. From what I have read, they love and revere their work although it is difficult and demanding.

The NFL ball was lovingly named "The Duke" in 1941 at the recommendation of George Halas to honor Wellington "Duke" Mara, the son of New York Giants founder Tim Mara. Wellington Mara led the Giants for decades and was inducted into the NFL Hall of the Fame like his father Tim. Wellington Mara was known as a man who was committed to the good of the league, the game, and the spirit of its people--both athletes and fans--more than the profit margins of his franchise. The Duke model was replaced by another Wilson ball after the 1969 season when the NFL and AFL merged. In 2006, Wilson again used the name "Duke" for the current NFL ball to once again honor Wellington Mara who passed away in 2005.

Every October, NFL footballs take on a new appearance and a new mission. Game balls are produced with pink ribbon decals to support breast cancer awareness. These footballs are used in games and subsequently auctioned off as part of the NFL's support of the fight against breast cancer. Again, there is profound meaning and emotion in a football.

Wilson is owned by Amer Sports of Helsinki, Finland. Amer Sports is a sporting goods company with internationally recognized brands including Salomon, Wilson, Atomic, Arc’teryx, Mavic, Suunto and Precor. In 2011, the company’s largest markets were the United States, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Austria. Wilson Sporting Goods corporate headquarters are in Chicago.

On a personal note, I'd like to express my appreciation for Amer Sports keeping their football manufacturing operation here in the states. We can use those jobs!

Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press, Inc.

Sporting Chance Press publishes fine books on sports that are entertaining to read.  See them here