Thursday, April 28, 2005

Constantine Shocker!!

For those who have no interest in American Idol, I'm going to lose you quickly with this one.

For the rest of us who are at least mildly interested, last night's show was a bombshell. How could Constantine Maroulis possibly get less votes than the rest of that bunch of finalists? I thought it was impossible too, until I started to analyze it a bit.

First, we all have to remember that there's nothing really fair about the way this is done. It's a popular vote. And in a popular vote, strange things can happen, depending on a lot of factors. Just ask George W. He's the President, but actually lost the popular vote to the uninteresting Al Gore in 2000. Popular votes have more to do with support factions, demographics, population concentrations and all those things that pollsters analyze.

It seems to me that Constantine was a victim of a split faction and a luke-warm loyalty from his home town. When it came to actual voting, he lost the "rocker" faction to Bo. Everyone else had their loyal constituencies casting millions of votes for their favorite. He didn't have a solid one.

--Carrie gets the country music and "she's hot" votes from conservative, middle America.
--Anthony (I guess) gets the "he's cute" votes from the teen, and pre-teen, girls (a very big faction to have on your side in Idol voting--re: Clay Aiken).
--Bo gets the rocker and southern (he's from Alabama) votes
--Vonzell gets the "she's cute and hot/Florida/and all minority" votes
--Scott gets the..."underdog/trailer-park/Cleveland/ and "I'm voting as a joke" votes
(There was always some strange person nominated for prom king in high school and people would vote for him as a joke...that's Scott) He certainly isn't surviving on performance or personality.

What's somewhat surprizing is that Constantine hails from New York. You would think that would put him in good shape for votes. Except that analysts always say that New York people have little loyalty to their own because there are so many of them...and they come from everywhere. There is no particular identity to a "New Yorker", other than an address. I'm guessing that the 15-million, or so, New Yorkers didn't care much about "their boy".

What's obvious is that very good performers will not necessarily move on because of their ability and performance. American Idol doesn't necessarily pick the best performer, because it's a vote of the people. And people vote based on loyalties and personalities, not talent. At this stage, it becomes a popularity contest. If they were picking the best performer, then professional performers should cast all the votes. But then...that wouldn't make much money for those cell phone companies would it?

"American Idol" seems like the wrong title for the show at this point. That connotes talent as the main factor in winning.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hockey for Charity

I caught Kelly Chase on the baseball game last night promoting the upcoming game featuring NHL stars. They've got a charity auction on Thursday, May 5th. And the game featuring a rainbow of hockey stars on Friday the 6th at the Family Arena.

Keith Tkachuk, Brett Hull and many more will be puttin' on the skates to raise money for the 14 Fund. I'm glad these guys are jumping on this chance to do some good for others. The 14 Fund was established several years ago in memory of former Blue Doug Wickenheiser(his jersey number was 14) who died of a brain tumor. The Blues alumni group does great things with this charitable effort. I hope they pack the place.

What's going through my mind as this game approaches is how the current work stoppage is affecting the people who count on the industry for their livelihoods. (Yes, yours truly included)And I'm also thinking about the many St. Louis-area non-profit groups and charities that raise a good part of their budgets by helping out in the concession stands at Blues games. I'm thinking of the beer vendors, the musicians, the security people, the electricians, the stage hands, the restaurant workers, the bartenders, the ushers, the off-ice officials, the front office staff, ..well it goes on and on.

When is someone going to organize a game that will help defray the lost income and expenses of these people? These NHL players would score a big public relations goal if they would do a tour of all of the NHL cities and raise money for the people most affected by the work stoppage. Whatever money they raise could be divided equally among all bonified individuals and groups who can prove they have lost money during this NHL disaster. It might be a few hundred bucks. It might be two bucks. But the good will generated by the players...the owners obviously couldn't make such a game happen because they would have to ask the players for cooperation... would be enormous and everlasting.

Seems like something they should think about doing with all their spare time. And they might want to do it before hockey fans forget who they are.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


More often than not, when I check the obits in the paper, I find someone I knew listed there.

I suppose it's a natural by-product of growing older, but lately I tend to wonder how my obituary will read. Will it be a simple collection of informative words constructed by my family and a funeral director? Will my passing be noteworthy enough to warrant a story separate from the obit? Will I have accomplished anything to achieve a positive legacy? Will anyone, other than family and close friends, really care? How will I be eulogized? I'm sure these are questions that most of us tend to ask ourselves now and again.

The thing that interests me is that it seems to take getting older to earnestly consider these thoughts. I certainly never gave them much time as a younger person...certainly not as a teen...and never before entering high school. At least, I don't remember really thinking at all about the possibility of my death back then. Sometimes, like all curious kids, I would wonder about where I was before I was born...and where I would go after I die...but not in the sense that I needed to do something important in between.

Young people, in particular, should understand the value of their time. Because they can do so much more with their sharp minds and highly-functional bodies. So, I propose a federal law that each morning when we get out of bed we are required to say something to remind ourselves that we're not seeing just another sunrise. Maybe something like: (I'm not sure all of this is original...seems kind of familiar)

"This day is a glorious gift...I understand that I will die...My body is not invincible...My time is not unlimited ...I make a promise to myself to do something valuable today, because today is the only day I can achieve anything. I cannot do something constructive yesterday or tomorrow... one is gone forever, and the other never comes."

Somehow I don't think we'll get the law passed that would require this thirty seconds of daily meditation, but think how much better the world would be if everyone walked around with such a mindset. Think of the accomplishments that would be made by those who ordinarily are afraid to do anything. Think of the respect that could finally be shown by each of us... to all of us.

I don't mean any of this in a religious sense. Religion shouldn't matter when considering the value of the life we are given. Who the giver is, is up to the individual. But that's worth thinking about too. I'm just saying that consideration of one's mortality is the perfect stimulant to accomplishment.

I think I'll begin reciting my little "day-starter" each morning. Just maybe I'll get that extra story on some page other than the obits. Why don't you join me?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Yaaaaaaawn...Monday Meanderings

--So..Let me understand this. Two men are found murdered by a mushroom hunter in Madison County. These two from Edwardsville, the other still unidentified...had been dead for 2-5 weeks according to the Major Case Squad. How does anybody disappear for that long...let alone two guys...without someone filing a missing persons report? I noticed that the Edwardsville man's cousin was quoted on the TV news. I guess someone can drop out of sight for a month with noone noticing...but not in most families. Something smells funny (no pun intended) about this story.

--I guess the Rams got what they wanted in the draft on Saturday. But, I've already read a couple of "experts" rating their draft as mediocre at best. Some think Alex Barron...the battleship-sized offensive lineman they drafted number one...has a poor work ethic. One would hope that the scouts did their homework on the guy. Some of the other picks are being called into question too. Reminds me of 1986. I was working for KXOK (at the time a news/talk/sports station) and the "Big Dead" and draft wizard George Boone selected linebacker Anthony Bell of Michigan State in the first round. This big fella (very nice kid) and I happened to show up at the press conference at Busch Stadium about the same time. I introduced myself and asked him if he liked Boone and the Cardinals, under the assumption that they had met at least once prior to the draft. He said, "Who's George Boone?". I reported this startling story. It was picked up by the other media too. The whole thing became a firestorm exposing the shoddy scouting done by Boone prior to draft day. I believe the fan reaction to the story became a major contributor to Boone losing his job.

--Can the Cardinals wrap up the NL Central by mid-August?? Late July?? I don't want to jinx them...but if the starting pitching continues to perform as it has...nobody in the division will seriously challenge them. I see the Cubs as the only team that can stay close. And they can't stay healthy. Cincinnatti doesn't have enough weapons...or pitching. Houston is over-the-hill and lost too much in the off-season. Milwaukee is much better than in recent years...but not to the Cardinals level. The Pirates...well, they're the Pirates.

--Bobby Orr...he of hockey royalty...wrote a column for the Boston Globe. He says the NHL is quickly becoming irrelevant. He urges players union rep Bob Goodenow and commissioner Gary Bettman to get a deal done now..or step aside for someone else. Maybe Bobby himself should be appointed "Special Uber-Commissioner" until the thing gets settled.

--I asked earlier if Eric Clapton would put in an appearance at Johnnie Johnson's funeral. Apparently a spray of flowers delivered to the funeral home with condolences and signed by E.C. was the best he could do. Clapton has raved about Johnson, and his contribution to rock-and-roll over the years. I'm sure he's a busy man.

--The wet winter, and warmer-than-usual early spring, has apprarently set us up for a rough mosquito season. St. Louis shows up 15th on the list of top 20 "mosquito problem cities" for this year. I've noticed a lot of ticks showing up on our pets in the wilds of Millstadt Township too.

--I am told by those who helped produce the show Friday night, that legendary Yackety Sax man Boots Randolph hasn't lost a note. He plays for an April dinner-show each year as The Falls reception and conference center in Columbia, IL celebrates the anniversary of it's opening. Not only does Boots still play an outstanding sax, he drives his musicians in from Nashville..and back home again the same night as the show. Randolph is 78. Good genes.

--One ticket was sold in Michigan for the 205 million dollar Mega-Millions jackpot in Friday night's drawing. Curses...foiled again.

Friday, April 22, 2005

More Friday Figgerin'

-I figger pulling a groin muscle away from the bone (like Nomar did the other night in the Cardinals game) sounds more like torture than a side-effect of sports. That's gotta leave a mark.
I'll be even Mia Hamm doesn't want to look at that bruise.

-I figger the Rams will not surprize anybody with their first-round draft pick. Probably the OT from Oklahoma.

-I figger when Pope Benedict XVI realizes he's 78 years old, and he only has so much time to leave his mark on the world, he may be more inclined to make a few changes than people might think.

-I figger it will be Hillary against Rudy in '08.

-I figger this Moussoaui character has some sort of martyrdom in mind now that he intends to plead guilty to his role in the 9-11 attacks.

-I figger I like this time of Spring about as much as any time of year.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

People Are Strange

Two days ago I wrote about two kind and compassionate doctors. Scroll down to "Angels on Earth" for the whole story. I guess you can't have a Yin, without a Yang. So, today I'll vent about someone who occupies space on "the dark side". I prefer to stay positive about people..but sometimes people ARE just strange.

One of the nurses caring...and I use that word with great caution...for my mother in the hospital seems to have an attitude problem. This Nurse Ratchet wannabe seems to take great pride in being several things--

1) In charge
2) Gruff
3) Short with those in her care
4) Impatient
5) Generally mean-spirited

Understanding why someone who chose nursing as a profession would also choose to exhibit this sort of behavior is not easy. But this person seems unapologetic and confident that her approach is how the job is done.

Looking at it from her perspective, nursing is certainly stressful. Accomodating sick, uncomfortable, and sometimes dying people, and their often ungrateful family members, is no picnic. It's a job I wouldn't want. But, taking all that into account, wouldn't you think it easily ascertained that a large part of the mission is making those in your care comfortable..both physically and mentally.

This person was not happy to lose two patients earlier this week. That will happen. Death, particularly in hospitals, is part of life. But barking orders, being "un-gentle" physically, and thoroughly unpleasant won't "force" someone back to health. That seems to be the approach here--"You're not going to die on my, by God, you better toe the line and get better". I hope hospitals have means of monitoring the behavior of nurses. If they do, I'm sure someone will counsel this obviously intelligent, but drill-seargeant-like, person that her approach needs to be softened.

I'm not a psychologist, but one would think patients need all the positive reinforcement possible to fight for health. Particularly when you're dealing with the very sick and elderly, giving them a world they would want to remain a part of can make all the difference.

I don't know who said it...but I try to live by it..."The easiest thing in the world to nice to others".

"Be nice to people on your way up, because you'll meet them again on your way down"
--Jimmy Durante (1893-1980)

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down
When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange

(Densmore-Krieger-Manzarek-Morrison) "The Doors"--1967

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


GMC Stadium--Home of the Grizzlies--will be hosting it's first ever big music show this summer. The Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson tour of minor league ballparks will come to Sauget on July 8th. I just hope these guys don't try to smoke the outfield. I'll bet Craig Kuhl...the award-winning head groundskeeper for the Grizzlies is already developing an ulcer. He always has the playing field looking "major league".

If Matt Morris continues to pitch like he did last night, and Mark Mulder (the other double-M on the staff) has found his stuff, the Cardinals might have the NL Central wrapped up by the end of July.

George Steinbrenner blasted the Yankees the other day for not playing "like Yankees". I would think by now he would realize that he can't fire anybody but Joe Torre. I'll bet A-Rod is shaking in his spikes.

There's a Mexican restaurant in Belleville...and a new one by the same owners in Fairview Heights...called "Mariachi's" that's becoming my new favorite. Very good authentic Mexican food...and they make a great margarita. Very reasonbly priced menu. The Belleville location is on South Illinois in the space once occupied by "Diamond Lil's" at the Town House Motel.

Friday Figgerin' went pretty well--
The new pope was determined on the second day...not the second ballot.
Cal Eldred has an inflamation of his heart lining. He'll be recuperating for a while.
Morels are poppin'. We came up with a pretty good batch over the weekend...enjoyed them as part of dinner Sunday night. MMMMM.
My other figgerin' doesn't call for much follow-up.

American Idol Update--
I am totally in the dark about how last night's 70's music competition played out. Didn't get to see it...but what I hear is that Bo and Scott rocked, Anwar sucked, Carrie did OK, Vonzell was good, Constantine was so-so, and Anthony was strong. That's just what I gather from my research after the fact. So, I'll be watching tonight. Prediction (even though I didn't see a lick) Anwar (the technically sound...but no personality guy) will go home.

Something to think about.
Pope Benedict XVI is 78 years old.
Life expectancy for the average German is 71.8 years...Males 69.6...Females 74.0

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Angels on Earth

I have always admired the life and work of a physician. There are few things more valuable than a good doctor. To be sure, there are some doctors that are better than others. But I have had the good fortune to experience the care of several very good ones during my life...both for myself...and for family members. At the time you desperately need their expertise and skill is when you appreciate them the most. And only then do you seem to comprehend that their commitment and dedication to helping others is such a noble use of a life.

Yesterday, these thoughts came streaming back to me as my mother underwent surgery for an intestinal disorder. The surgery was recommended and performed by a very bright and skilled surgeon named Scott Crouch. He is the type of person you would expect to be successful at whatever he chose to do with his life. Lucky for the general populous, he chose medicine. He has been clear, caring, and precise with each step along the path to diagnosing my mother's problem and recommending the treatment needed. Dr. Crouch has instilled confidence and trust in his ability to make my mother's life better since the first visit to his office.

Mom will turn 85 tomorrow. My sister and I want her remaining time with us to be enjoyable, and as healthy as possible. I have felt from day one that the doctor had this understanding of the situation and has dealt with her problem while exhibiting a level of compassion unusual for someone so young. I'm guessing, but I would say the doctor is in his early to mid 30's.

While my mother was in the operating room, another doctor came to visit my sister Bonnie, and me, in the waiting room. This doctor is a colleague in the same medical group as Dr. Crouch and was assisting with the surgery. He told us how it was going, explaining the procedure in more detail than lay people can understand. But, he made his best effort to communicate what they were accomplishing inside my mom's body. This man didn't have to be involved at all. Mom, technically, wasn't his patient. He just wanted to help. And he understood how precious our mother's well-being was to us. As it turns out, this fellow was a professor of Dr. Crouch's while he attended medical school at St. Louis University. The professor/doctor's name is Terry Wade. And he's a dear, old family friend.

Dr. Wade and I met as young boys back in the late 50's because we had relatives who were next-door neighbors. We would play impromptu games of wiffle ball...or tennis ball...or whatever we could find. Sometimes I would win...sometimes he would. Even though he was a few years younger, I always took pride in the victories because of his athletic ability and competitiveness. I'm sure those traits have served him well in his profession too. He has a well-earned reputation as one of the better surgeons in this part of the world. We've always enjoyed one another's company...but I never enjoyed his more than yesterday. We didn't ask for Terry to be with mom...he volunteered to be there. I'm sure he also knew how reassuring his face would be as he came into the waiting room yesterday. Is there really any way to thank a person like this enough? "Thank you" seems so inadequate.

Side comment: It's unbelievable to me that we have a climate so hostile to good doctors in our area. The good ones leave, just as quickly as the bad ones are sued for malpractice. Soon, a good doctor will be hard to find...and the not so good ones will be out of business... unless someone in government takes action to bring doctors a reasonable level of legal protection. I have nothing against most lawyers...just unjustified lawsuits.

The surgery went well. Mom will be uncomfortable for a few days, but should return to a very healthy and independent life very soon. Thanks to the good doctors.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday Figgerin'

-I figger $470 is a little too much to fork out for a couple of sun-faded seats from ol' Busch Stadium. I'd rather spend it on a whole season of fun at Grizzlies games.

-I figger the serial rapist who's working the East St. Louis female population will soon branch out to other communities if he's not caught soon. (The cops say they have a suspect and an arrest is imminent).

-I figger the new pope will be determined on the second ballot taken on Monday and won't be an Italian.

-I figger...but I hope I'm wrong...that Cardinals pitcher Cal Eldred has a health problem more serious than the upper respiratory infection that has been advertised.

-I figger Mike Danton is not too happy with his choices about now.

-I figger the Blues will be playing again in the fall...but you may not recognize many of the people wearing the uniforms.

-I figger its about time for the morels to be poppin'...and I'm not figgerin' to tell you where I find mine.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Thursday Thoughts

--So now there's a woman from Centreville, IL suing the Lowes company for allowing a bird to fly into her head and supposedly causing all sorts of physical damage. She was allegedly shopping in the garden department...which is not under roof...and this big, bad bird came swooping the direction of Lowes management I'm sure...and knocked her down. Where will it all end? Has anyone ever heard of the word accident? Or is someone, somewhere, always responsible for someone else's misfortunes? As you already knew, the lawyers are out of control.

--My predictions in yesterday's post were close. But along with the rest of "American Idol" fans I was pretty shocked that Bo Bice was in the bottom three. When you think about it though, he has been pretty ordinary the last couple of weeks. And, I'm sure he and Constantine draw votes from the same base of fans. Constantine has continued to impress and improve...while Bo has stagnated.

--Once again, former Cardinals pitcher Steve Kline is trying to remove a rather large foot from his mouth. He told Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch the other day that he missed St. Louis and was miserable in Baltimore. Yesterday he called his teammates and the Baltimore press together to tell them that he really didn't mean it that way. Kline has always had a way of saying things before his brain is warmed up.

--One of the late Johnnie Johnson's biggest fans was Eric Clapton. It will be interesting to see if Clapton puts in a St. Louis appearance at Johnson's funeral.

--I see where the statistics are in for teen birth rates. In 2002 the rate of teens giving birth was down markedly. The very positive side-effect--fewer kids living in poverty and on the welfare dole. I wonder if the word is finally getting through that having babies when you are still a kid and living with your parents...or parent...or guardian...or (insert parental unit here) not such a great thing, and no badge of honor. I'm guessing that the trend away from actual intercourse...and toward Bill Clinton-type also partly responsible.

--Prediction--Next week on Idol--Scott Savol's luck runs out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Idol Aftermath

OK...I admit it. I'm irreversably and undeniably hooked on the American Idol show. I don't know how it happened...but it's too late to turn back now.

So, here are my thoughts on last night's performances by the "Elite 8" who performed songs from the year they were born. (Mid to late 70's and early 80's)

----Rating Scale 1=Pathetic 5=Average 10=Show Stopper----

--Nadia Turner--My thoughts haven't changed on her from the beginning...very good performer, average voice. Last night's poor choice of songs (Some obscure Crystal Gayle tune) was unbelievable. She's so much better when she does high energy stuff that I can't believe she went for a slow...and totally unimpressive...tune like that. (Last night's rating- 5)
--Bo Bice--Perfect voice for a rocker. Excellent performer. But last night's "Free Bird" was not too inspiring. It didn't have a lot of range to the vocal...and there was never a moment in it that really got you anywhere close to "goose bumps". (Last night's rating-7)
--Anwar Robinson--Very good voice, technically excellent. Struggles with being warm to the camera. Last night's crooning was not bad...but took a Dionne Warwick song to places it didn't need to go. (Last night's rating-6)
--Vonzell Solomon--Cute as can be. Not the best voice in the world...but she's gotten more out of it than I expected earlier in the competition. Very good performer. "Let's Hear It For The Boy" was a perfect choice for her bubbly personality. (Last night's rating-8)
--Anthony Fedorov--He shouldn't even still be in the competition. But, the guy came back to show he's got some ability. "Every Time You Go Away" by Paul Young was a good choice for him. The teeny-bopper voting block will likely keep him alive for another week.
(Last night's rating-7)
--Scott Savol--"She's Gone" by Hall and Oates may be the most vocally challenging song anyone has ever sung on the show. He tackled it...but didn't nail it. Once his voice got into the higher register he was OK. I think his rap sheet and his little snippy comeback to Simon Cowell's critique won't help him with the voters. (Last night's rating--6)
--Carrie Underwood--Carrie had the look of someone who knows that there's no way she's getting voted off the show until the last 2 or 3 contestants, and she's probably right. She's got movie star looks...a very good, if not great, voice...and has the entire country music crowd on her side. Why she would pick Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" for last night's performance I can only guess. Her agent...(I'm sure most of these kids have one already)...probably told her it was time to use national TV to get some sexiness out there, a la Brittney Spears. So, she accomplished that.
(Last night's rating--7)
--Constantine Maroulis--This guy is easily the best performer in the bunch. I said performer, not singer. He knows theatre, he knows lighting, he knows working the camera, and he knows how to play his steamy sexiness to the teen-girl crowd. Simon called last night's performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody" astonishing. I don't think he necessarily meant that in a totally positive way. But Constantine can sing well...and he comes off as a professional.
(Last night's rating--9)

Prediction--The bottom three will be Scott Savol, Nadia Turner and Anwar Robinson. Bye-bye to Nadia.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Program Worth Catching

I watched a special on ESPN last night about a man I knew little about until seeing it. His name was Shirley Povich. He is the father of Maury, and one of the more famous sportswriters of the 20th century. He wrote for the Washington Post. The program made it clear that he was an icon of the sports journalism fraternity. He obviously was highly regarded even before his passing in 1998. I'm happy that I stumbled upon this documentary which featured comments from his family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances and included excerpts of some of Povich's flowery columns through the years.

Had Povich written the above paragraph himself it likely would have appeared more like this:

Thrust into my consciousness by way of a certain mystical transmission from one of our time's all-sports channels is the memorable life of Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich. This giant among those who chronicle sports is also recognized as the father of Maury Povich, a television host, husband of Connie Chung, and certainly the more recognizable branch of the family tree. Let it be known however, that Shirley Povich will, without reasonable challenge, be eternally remembered for his many powerful and poetic contributions to a journalistic style fast fading from our impatient world. Povich's musings and profundities will, no doubt, ensure a legacy and provide a definitive benchmark for generations of sports scribes yet unborn. His toilings for The Post have forever ensconced Povich as a literary giant knowing few equals among brethren of print. A pedestal amidst the gods of his chosen profession was certainly secure prior to his passing at age 92 in the 20th century's second-to-the-last year. This reporter will be forever grateful for having accidentally encountered such a precious television gem. Count his fortunate family circle, colleagues and acquaintances as powerful contributors to this poignant and well-crafted tribute to a heretofore anonymous Michelangelo of the press box.

--Back to normal now...Check your local listings. Its one of ESPN's original programs...Shirley Povich. Its a great documentary even if you don't care much for sports.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Monday Points to Ponder

--Would you trade places with Tiger Woods? If not, who would you trade places with? He plays golf for a living(not a bad deal even if you didn't make buh-jillions of dollars doing it)... has a wife that is about as good looking as is possible...makes miracles happen on a regular basis...pretty much does what he wants...when he wants. Yep...I think I might trade. (But he can keep his wife...I'll keep mine)

--Are we to believe that the Cardinals players are upset about having to travel to Oklahoma City and Springfield, MO for exhibition games before the regular season started in Houston last Tuesday? That is apparently the word from unofficial player spokesman Jim Edmonds. The trip supposedly tired them out...and left them no energy to play effectively this weekend in the home opening series. WAA--WAA-WAA. Aren't you just sick of these guys...who just don't have any connection to the reality that most of us deal with? Spend a week in some real shoes boys.

--They say gas prices have gone as high as they will least for now...and will begin to recede soon. Yeah, right. Don't you feel helpless when you put gas in your car? You can't just not pay. You have to put fuel in the car. You have to pay whatever someone, somewhere says the price is. When is fixing this situation going to become a priority for someone in Washington?

--Another earthquake in Sumatra. 6.8 this tsunami. Kind of makes you wonder if the Christmas tsunami was the big one....or if they haven't had it yet.

--All but three of the cardinals who will vote on the next pope were appointed by the late John Paul II. One would think his policies, politics and positions are safe with whomever his successor turns out to be.

--An Arena Football League player died during a game yesterday. least to me...he was injured making a tackle on an ordinary play out in the middle of the field. I was waiting for the first guy to die in arena football by being smashed headfirst into the dasher boards that are used to contain the field, as in hockey.

--Where do the birds go during a storm?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Katie's Boo-Boo

I happened to hear Katie Couric mention this morning during the coverage of Pope John Paul 2's funeral that he was "the first non-Italian" pope. I don't know where her information comes from on this one. The Italians have had a stranglehold on the papacy for a long time and probably the next pope will be another Italian because of their clout with the conclave of cardinals. But, according to a program that I viewed on the History Channel last night, there have been many non-Italian popes through the years. I had also believed that John Paul 2 was unique in being a native of Poland, but if you go back far enough you will find popes that hailed from many countries other than Italy.

The History Channel special indicated there have been popes from France, Africa and quite a few other European and middle-eastern countries. In fact, the Pope's headquarters was moved to France for many years several centuries ago.

The special was quite fascinating and shed light on the corruption, chaos, and politics that dominated the papacy in the early days of the Catholic church. Popes were murdered. Popes died mysteriously. (One died when a ceiling collapsed on him) Popes openly led troops into battle. One pope had his predecessor's body exhumed, propped up in a throne, put on trial, and after getting the verdict he wanted, thrown into a nearby river. Popes used to be not such nice guys. And at one time there were three men claiming to be the pope all at the same time.

The original pope was St. Peter. What country was he from?

I was also enlightened to learn that the Vatican is a rather recent creation. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini made a deal with the pope in the 1920's to recognize the Vatican as a separate country if The Church would no longer claim parts of Italy as its own land. The Vatican takes up about 130 acres of land in the middle of Rome.

So, if the History Channel special had its facts right, Katie has misspoken.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Questions of the Day

--Was Nikko Smith voted off American Idol because most of "Cardinal Nation" was not watching "AI" on Tuesday...and instead zeroed in on the Cardinals opener at Houston?

--Who will prevail on West Wing? Alan Alda or Jimmy Smits?

--Is it a conicidence, or part of a conspiracy, that now that gasoline is at an all-time high, we see fewer ads on TV for SUV's, and more for little putt-putt cars.

--When will FOX 2 start competing with 4 and 5 so we can get a decent 10 o'clock newscast in St. Louis?

--Did Bill Clinton ask Condi Rice out for a drink after they paid their respects to the late Pope?

--A TV report last night said that the Vatican predicts Pope John Paul II's funeral will be the biggest for anybody, anywhere at any time. What's the definition of biggest?

--Did you hear President Bush (number one) refer to the Pope as "Pope John Paul number 2" in his post-death comments for TV the other night?

--How many people are buried in Arlington National Cemetery? (answer below)

--Back to Idol...Who the hell is voting for Anthony Fedorov? (There must be a huge contingent of tone-deaf, 12-year-old girls with cell phones).

--Has Bruce Weber found someone yet to teach him how to speak without destroying what vocal chords he has left?

--Will there be protestors again this year at the Masters?

--Will Rick Ankiel ever make it back to the majors now that he's an everyday, minor-league outfielder?

--Where are Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and O. J. Simpson right now?

--What exactly is Paris Hilton famous for?

--Should the guy holding the SLOW sign on the highway be paid more than a teacher?

(Answer to Arlington question above--"All of them")

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Cautiously Excited

Hooray for the Cardinals! They started the season with a bang last night. St. Louis 7, Houston 3.

It looks like it will be another fun year to be a Cardinals fan. We are spoiled in St. Louis. We have an organization that is committed to winning, and smart about doing so. There aren't many cities that have teams with ownership and management as consistently correct with their on-field, and off-field, activities.

The part about being a Cardinals fan that's disappointing is not what our team does, but the circumstances and conditions with which they have to deal. The rest of the professional baseball structure and climate is totally chaotic, absurd and laughable. Put aside all the steroid stuff. The economic system of baseball is as screwed up as it can be.

Imagine being a fan in Tampa, Kansas City, or a number of other smaller markets. How could you possibly be excited at the start of the season knowing that the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Cubs and a few other teams are maybe 100 times more likely to be in the post-season than yours. It's just the economic reality of the situation. The big market, big spending teams have the clout, the players and the big money. And your matter how smart the management may be...has somewhere around 1/10th of the resources to try to get to the World Series.

In St. Louis, because of the loyal and fanatical following, our team has a chance to field a good, to great, club consistently. So we tend to overlook the odds. But in the small markets that only occasionally taste success, the fans are smacked in the face with the desperation of their team's situation constantly. Winning anything is a secondary, and distant, part of being a baseball fan. Just seeing a game, having a hot dog and a beer, and trying to be content with that, becomes their hum-drum way of life.

The owners in the smaller markets are only mildly motivated to buck the system because they make money. The overall value of their investment continues to climb. And, they are a part of something that's....(referring to the bottom line) economically healthy...but competitively a train wreck. They can be content with making a couple of million here and there...while their franchise sales tag continues to climb by double digits every season. Why challenge the commissioner to level the competitive landscape when things are "not so bad"?

As one guy who is sick of the constant bombardment of Yankees and Red Sox stuff, I say bring on the salary cap in baseball too. Maybe the Oaklands, Minnesotas and Pittsburghs will have a chance to win something in a couple of years. Meanwhile, Go Cards!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Championship Observations

Random thoughts on the "unexpected" (at least by me) North Carolina win over Illinois.

--While I underestimated the impact that N.C. center Sean May would have on the game, I also underestimated the level of protection he would be given by the game officials. Maybe you can call it sour grapes, but it sure looked to me like this guy came in with a reputation that the officials...for some reason...were of a mind to preserve. What I mean by that is it seemed that May was able to move around at will knowing it was unlikely that an offensive foul would be called on him. Meanwhile, it seemed that every time an Illini defender got close to this outstanding player he would be whistled for a foul. Was I seeing the game with orange-colored glasses?

--I was most disappointed in two Illini players. James Augustine and Dee Brown.

Augustine will say today that he was whistled for some very questionable fouls on his way to fouling out of the game. And he may be right. But, in a national championship game you can not get yourself into a situation where a "ticky-tack" foul call will take you out of the game and put your team in such a weakened position. Not a smart game by a guy who was dominant in the Big Ten tournament just a few weeks ago.

Brown was not the "dynamic force" defensively, or offensively, that we're used to seeing. Many Illini games this season featured Brown making steals followed by driving layups. Brown also could be counted on for long-range jumpshots at key times. Brown was barely visible, particularly at crunch time, in last night's game.

Some would say Luther Head cost the Illini the game with a turnover and a couple of missed shots in the last :90 seconds. I would disagree. He, at least, was obviously doing all he could to get a win. He obviously wanted the ball and was trying to make things happen.

--Finally, I hope that the national television audience noticed the difference in the comments made by the respective coaches after the game.

Illini coach Bruce Weber...when finally asked to make his post-game observations on national TV...was gracious toward his players, the Illini fans and the experience in St. Louis. He also went out of his way to compliment North Carolina, and Sean May in particular, as being the better team last night. Weber has displayed nothing but grace and class from the beginning of the tournament, to it's end last night. Now he needs to get a voice coach.

Meanwhile, Roy Williams, the North Carolina coach, had absolutely nothing to say about Illinois. It was all me, and us, and ours, and we. "I'm happy for myself, my family, the N.C. fans, and my team". Never did he give credit to Illinois for even being on the court. While Williams is a likeable guy most of the time, I thought at least he could have given a bit of credit to his vanquished opponent. I don't think it was a show of disrespect, but I think it was a display of the lack of class that Williams has been accused of at times.

I would hope the parents of kids who may be in the process of choosing what university their student-athlete will attend noticed the same difference in the two coaches that I observed.

Monday, April 04, 2005

What's Missing?

Tonight will be one of the greatest nights in St. Louis sports history. The NCAA basketball championship will be decided in our fine city. And by all accounts the Gateway to the West has put on an incredible show for the national audience and the fans who have come to watch at the Edward Jones Dome. Jim Nantz, on the CBS telecast Saturday night, said he thought St. Louis had proven to be a "spectacular" host, and worthy of another Final Four very soon. The entire region is absorbed in this great sports event, and the nation will be watching as Illinois plays North Carolina for the title.

So, what's missing?

At this time every normal sports year we would also be a few days away from the end of hockey's regular season. The thrilling, early-April days of Blues' playoff positioning...or the push to make the playoffs...should also be a major factor on our sports pages and in our sports consciousness. The people here for the NCAA tournament should have had the chance to see a big game or two during their visit. We would have "extra-impressed" the masses with the atmosphere provided by the Savvis Center and the excitement of an important Blues game. It would have added greatly to the overall entertainment value of our town as it tried to convince the NCAA that it should bring back the Final Four in 2012.

But the visionless, disorganized generals and the spoiled, overpaid foot soldiers of professional hockey have deprived us of all this...and so very much more. Sadly, those of us who usually work in the industry, and count on it for income, are about the only ones noticing that hockey is missing from the local sports landscape.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Time Has Finally Come

A long-awaited first is a few days away.

Louisville has won twice. Michigan State has won twice. North Carolina has won thrice.

Illinois has NEVER won the NCAA men's basketball championship.

Monday night in St. Louis the long-suffering fans of the Fighting Illini program will taste the sweet flavor of being number one for the first time since they began playing this tournament in 1939 when Oregon beat Ohio State. The highest previous finish in the tournament for a University of Illinois team--3rd Place, in 1951 and 1952. The "Flying Illini" tied for third in 1989 with Duke...because they stopped playing a third place game a few years earlier.

I believe the karma is right. They have the personnel. They have the "every man", highly likeable coach. They have not been a victim of serious injury. They have the game behind them (The Arizona Miracle) that most championship teams need to survive on their way to a title. Most of all, they will practically be playing home games on Saturday and Monday night. The Illini faithful will pack the Edward Jones Dome and give them the 6th man they undoubtedly will need to win.

The time has finally come. That was my prediction before the tournament started....and I'm sticking with it.